Crews tackle wildfire near Eagle Thursday night

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Carrie Calvin | Special to the DailyA helicopter drops water over a fire that started near Eagle Thursday evening.

EAGLE – A lightning strike sparked a wildland fire Thursday evening, and area residents were on alert to evacuate.

Anxious Eagle residents watched from their homes as crews snuffed the seven acre fire, in almost the same spot as a fire 10 years ago.

Greater Eagle Fire Protection District Division Chief Tom Wagenlander said Thursday’s fire was sparked by a lightning strike on a single tree in the Castle Peak area north of Eagle. The fire started at .1 acres, then was fanned by winds from passing thunderstorms.

The fire was estimated at between 5 and 7 acres just after 8 p.m.

Eagle resident John Nilson saw the whole thing from the start.

“The lighting hit around 6 p.m. and by 6:30 p.m. the flames were rolling,” Nilson said.

Fire fighters stomped on it immediately, Nilson said.

“Everyone was on it right away. It was very impressive,” Nilson said.

Luck and the weather were with fire crews as the prevailing winds blew the flames away from homes.

But fire fighters were taking no chances. Wagenlander said engine crews from Greater Eagle, the Gypsum Fire Department and the Vail Fire Department were all at the fire scene just before dark. A federal firefighting crew with three engine crews also responded to the blaze.

Air tankers were called in from Grand Junction, with as many as three heavy tankers standing by. After sunset, a pair of heavy-lift helicopters were seen flying buckets of water toward the fire site.

“They got up there quickly,” said Winsor Stough, who lives in Eby Creek, just a couple miles from the fire.

Lighting strikes twice

When drought ravaged Colorado 10 years ago, a lightning strike sparked a fire in nearly the same spot. A slurry bomber and local fire fighters snuffed that 2002 fire before it could spread.

Thursday’s fire was visible from as far away as Gypsum, eight miles away. Witnesses said the flames leaped 40 feet high.

Emergency calls started pouring in moments after the smoke started rising.

“You could see it from all over and there was a lot of smoke. You could see it as far as

Eagle Ranch,” said Cooper Gould, 15, of Eagle and a sophomore to-be at Vail Christian

High School.

A few neighborhood residents saw lightning hit the hillside northeast of their neighborhood and smoke start to rise immediately.

Slurry bombers dropped pink fire retardant on the fire and helicopters dropped water, residents said.

No homes had been evacuated by late Thursday, but neighborhood residents were put on alert, told to prepare to leave.

One truck was spotted leaving the neighborhood, pulling a fully loaded horse trailer.

Eagle County Sheriff’s deputies blocked the entrance to Castle Peak Ranch east of Eagle. Only residents were allowed into the neighborhood. The Eagle County Fairgrounds was set up for large animal shelter; pets could find shelter at the Eagle County Animal Shelter.

Also on Thursday, above Minturn, the Eagle River Fire Protection District responding to a smoke report in the area above Battle Mountain south of Minturn.

They sent in a crew to investigate, but it doesn’t appear to be sustained smoke that would go with a wildfire. Crews were optimistic it was not a wildfire, said Battalion Chief Michael Warmuth.

Chris Freud contributed to this story

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