Wednesday updates: Ptarmigan Fire

A plane drops slurry onto the Ptarmigan Fire above the Hamilton Creek neighborhood in Silverthorne on Monday, Sept. 27.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

Editor’s note: This story is no longer being updated.

6:40 p.m. Hamilton Creek and Angler Mountain residents must be credentialed to return into the area until further notice. Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said pre-evacuation notices and the closure of areas will be evaluated on a day-by-day basis.

6:36 p.m. In response to a question about risk of mudslides following the fire, Summit Fire & EMS spokesperson Steve Lipsher said part of putting out the fire is doing an assessment for rehabilitation. Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said there would be ongoing monitoring to ensure restoration happens in the burned area.

6:30 p.m. The evacuation is being delayed until 10 a.m. Thursday due to safety and logistics, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said, as crews are coming off the hill now. The late morning time is to allow fire crews to get to the fire in the morning.

6:22 p.m. Incident commander Eric White said that the fire has remained roughly the same size since Tuesday. He added that there would be a containment estimate Thursday.

6:12 p.m. Incident commander Eric White said it has been determined safe enough for firefighters to engage in on-ground activity. Fire crews have started on the western perimeter of the fire. Ground resources as well as helicopters will continue to secure the western edge before moving north.

6 p.m. At this evening’s update on the Ptarmigan Fire at Silverthorne Town Hall, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons announced that the evacuation order has been lifted for the Hamilton Creek neighborhood and Angler Mountain, effective 10 a.m. Thursday morning. The areas move to pre-evacuation notice.

FitzSimons noted that fire crews will still be active in the area as the fire is still active. He asked residents not to interfere with firefighting efforts and to stay in or near their homes when in the area.

FitzSimons also announced that tonight’s meeting would be the last — all future public meetings are canceled.

12:43 p.m. Officials provided an update on the Ptarmigan Fire during a community briefing at Silverthorne Town Hall this morning.

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said efforts to allow evacuees to temporarily return to their homes this morning went smoothly. He said officials would continue to offer a window from 8-10 a.m. Thursday and Friday to allow residents to return to the area. There is still no estimated time for when evacuation orders will be lifted, but FitzSimons reiterated at the meeting that resident shouldn’t expect to return home for at least the next 48 hours.

“I woke up this morning and went out on my deck and looked across the valley and couldn’t see the fire, like most people,” FitzSimons said. “… But don’t be fooled (that) it looks like the fire is out because I woke up the other morning and looked outside and it looked like a volcano. It looked like it was glowing, and this morning you don’t see anything. But we have heard from crews on the ground that obviously that fire is still actively burning.”

Until evacuation orders are lifted, FitzSimons assured community members that firefighters and law enforcement would stay in the area to protect residents’ homes.

“We’re continuing to secure your neighborhood when you’re not home,” FitzSimons said. “… Firefighters are there in your neighborhood protecting your structure. We’re there making sure that no one that doesn’t belong in the neighborhood is there.”

Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said firefighters have been focusing on structure protection for the past couple days: laying hose lines, building fire breaks in front of homes and removing fuel sources like brush and trees.

Bianchi said today represents the first real operating period for firefighters trying to combat the wildfire.

“Yesterday, we were getting a lot of our resources in, and we couldn’t fly for much of the day yesterday,” Bianchi said. “So today, we’ve got a lot of those ground resources that came in yesterday evening and that are now engaging the fire today.”

Bianchi said the main goal for today is to put out spot fires on the southeast flank and to start to build a strong containment line along the western and southern flanks of the fire closest to residential areas.

“We’re looking at all different options of what that can look like,” Bianchi said. “… If that’s timber-harvesting equipment to dozers to (whatever) we need to create some safety off of those trees for us to get good hand line in there. That’s what we’re talking about.”

Aircraft will also be providing support for firefighters today as weather allows. Bianchi said there’s a definite trade-off between precipitation helping to control the wildfire and rain forcing aerial firefighting resources to the ground.

“We really appreciate the rain, and it really has kind of kept things in check,” Bianchi said. “But it did limit us, and it did limit some of the activity we could do yesterday given just firefighter safety and putting people on the ground underneath some of those trees. So it’s a trade-off, and it’s a balance. … We’re really just looking for opportunities and windows that we can utilize both. … The idea is that we can continue — when we have these windows — utilizing the resources and allow the precipitation to help us additionally on top of that.”

11:22 a.m. Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said that containment is still 0%. He said the first focus for containment is to secure the western side of the fire.

11:15 a.m. Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard said community members who wish to make monetary donations can go to and enter their zip code.

11:10 a.m. Adam Bianchi, district ranger with the Dillon Ranger District, said at the Wednesday morning community update that fire crews are working to secure fire lines to a point where evacuees can return to their homes. He said that the goal has switched from preventing fire spread to fire containment.

11 a.m. At the community briefing Wednesday morning, Sept. 29, at Silverthorne Town Hall, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said that through Friday, evacuated individuals will be able to temporarily return to their homes from 8-10 a.m. with credentials. Credentials are given at Silverthorne Town Hall.

FitzSimons added that he does not have an estimated date for when evacuated residents will be able to permanently return home.

The 11 a.m. meeting will be discontinued going forward, FitzSimons said, but a daily 6 p.m. meeting will continue. He noted that people will continue to see a heavy law enforcement presence in evacuated areas.

10:41 a.m. Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said numerous evacuees were able to temporarily return to their homes this morning as planned, but it will likely still be a couple of days before residents are able to return permanently.

“I honestly don’t see it happening for at least 48 to 72 hours,” FitzSimons said. “But it’s going to depend on a lot of safety factors.”

FitzSimons said residents shouldn’t be fooled by the lack of flames on the hillside this morning, adding that the wildfire is very much still active. He noted that the plan for now is to continue allowing residents back into the evacuated area in the mornings until they can return permanently.

Original story:

Low temperatures, high humidity and a little bit of rain helped to keep the Ptarmigan Fire burning northeast of Silverthorne calm overnight.

Steve Lipsher, spokesperson with Summit Fire & EMS, said officials don’t believe the wildfire grew much Tuesday night and remains at between 85 and 100 acres. But firefighters are again gearing up for another long day Wednesday, Sept. 29, of trying to build containment around the blaze.

“The rain has been good, but there still is active fire up there,” Lipsher said. “It is going to be, unfortunately, a long, hard haul to get at this. It is a very tenacious fire, and the forest up there is dead standing and downfall in a lot of places where we couldn’t even walk even if there wasn’t a fire.

“The risk of putting firefighters into that forest to address the fire is very high. The potential for falling trees, which are a hazard that has killed many firefighters in the past, is frightening alone. Then the prospect of trying to fight a fire down there with hand tools and creating safety routes and being able to get out of an area like that if things go sideways — all of those are huge red flags for firefighters.”

Lipsher said that because of the amount of dead fuel on the ground, fire managers are also concerned that it is sheltering flames from the rain, water and slurry that have dropped over the area over the past couple of days. He noted that officials are hoping to conduct more ground operations Wednesday if fire conditions are favorable, actually sending hand crews to the fire line to start building containment.

Depending on weather, community members should again expect a significant aircraft presence in the area helping to ensure the wildfire doesn’t make a turn to the southwest toward residential areas.

“We expect if the weather clears to the point where we can get aircraft up, we’ll continue trying to pin it in and create a significant enough fire line around the perimeter of the fire to where it’s no longer a threat to these properties,” Lipsher said. “… (Ground crews) are hiking into the perimeter. They’re not going to go into the deep, thick forest, but they’re going to be on the edge of it trying to build some actual containment line there. The problem is that containment line that is not thickened by fuel reduction is easily enough breached by an active fire. So they’re trying to figure out the best way to create a true containment line, which is one we believe will be sufficient enough to prevent the fire from spreading.”

Lipsher said there are still about 100 firefighters assigned to the blaze.

Evacuated residents were given a window to return home from 8-10 a.m. Wednesday. Lipsher said there were lines of cars waiting at roadblocks to get their chance this morning. He voiced that evacuees have shown great tolerance and patience with fire managers and the evacuation so far, and he promised that officials were working hard to get them back into their homes permanently as soon as it is safe.

“I think fire managers around the West learned some pretty strong lessons watching the East Troublesome Fire and the Paradise Fire, and the concern is that if you’ve got a fire burning within a half-mile of your home, all it takes is one unprecedented shift in the weather for it to go off to the races. So we’re all being very conservative and exhibiting an abundance of caution.”

Mandatory evacuation orders remain in place for the Hamilton Creek and upper Angler Mountain Ranch neighborhoods. A pre-evacuation notice is in place for residents in the South Forty neighborhood; Angler Mountain neighborhood on Bald Eagle Road, Fly Line Drive and below; and residents east and uphill of Summit County Road 2020 and north of Summit County Road 2021.

Officials will hold public briefings at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday at Silverthorne Town Hall, 601 Center Circle.

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