New Castle Fire burns through a fourth day
garfield county correspondent
About 100 evacuees gathered in the gym of Riverside Middle School in New Castle Wednesday afternoon to hear whether or not they would be allowed back in their Canyon Creek homes. About 200 homes are threatened by the New Castle Fire, which was ignited by lightning Sunday evening.
A mandatory evacuation order is in effect for a total of 90 homes in Canyon Creek.
Electricity to the area was shut off Wednesday morning and would remain off until early evening as a safety measure, said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario.
He said the evacuation would not be lifted and people should plan to spend another night away from their homes. He also said he, too, lives in Canyon Creek, in the cluster of homes alongside Interstate 70. He and his wife voluntarily evacuated their home Tuesday.
“I want to go home as badly as you do,” he said.
The fire was about 50 percent contained as of 9 p.m. Wednesday ” up from around 20 percent, said Karl Brauneis, public information officer for the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team.
“We got around the hump, so to speak,” he said, adding that authorities will be reassessing the evacuation order today.
George and Ginny Morris left their home in Canyon Creek Estates on Tuesday. George said a sheriff’s deputy came to the door to tell them to evacuate.
“We had plenty of time” to pack up. The couple decided to take “anything that couldn’t be replaced by money,” he said, including an irreplaceable collection of Native American kachina figures.
As with many of their neighbors, the Morrises found a place to stay with friends in Glenwood Springs and had offers from 10 others.
When the order came, they were ready to go.
“I have a fire background and I knew they weren’t screwing around,” he said. “I think when people are told to go they should go.”
People have been allowed to return to their homes for a good reason, such as forgotten medication. But Vallario urged those people to come back out.
“If you refuse (to be evacuated), you’re there at your own risk, and we may not be able to get in to rescue you,” he said.
Winds remained strong and unpredictable throughout Wednesday, at times kicking up a wall of flames just west of Canyon Creek Road that could be seen from I-70.
By Wednesday evening about 1,800 acres had burned, Brauneis said.
Firefighters lit a back burn of about 1,000 yards along Canyon Creek Road to consume vegetation between the road and the fireline and to keep the fire from crossing the road to the homes on the east side.
More than 200 firefighters, two heavy air tankers, two single-engine air tankers and four helicopters continued to pour water and fire retardant on the blaze.
“We have more aircraft on this fire than I have ever seen on any fire,” Vallario said, in part because no other major fires are burning in the West. In addition, because the fire threatens homes, manpower and equipment continues to be dedicated to fighting it.
“This is the number-one priority in the region for wildfire,” said Carl Mendanza, fire administrator for the Bureau of Land Management.
So far, the cost to fight the New Castle Fire stands at $600,000, which will be paid by both the county and federal agencies, Vallario said.
One of the people dislocated by the fire wondered how she and others would know when the evacuation order was lifted and it was safe to go back to their homes.
Vallario said roadblocks would be removed and word would go out via local media.
He’d also give a personal signal. “I’ll be on my porch with my feet kicked up having a cold drink,” he quipped.
A hotline has been established to call for information about the New Castle Fire: (970) 309-0347 or (970) 319-9562.
To view or submit fire photos taken by the community, visit http://www.postindependent.com/wildfires.
To view a live Web cam of the fire, go to http://www.coloradowebcam.net.
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