Winds force crews to retreat

Gusts up to 40 mph create dangerous situation for Hinman firefighters

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Wind gusts up to 40 mph forced fire crews working the southern end of the Hinman fire to retreat Wednesday afternoon.

Fire officials made the call to pull firefighters away from the fire for an hour and a half as strong winds and thunderstorm activity moved through the region.

"It's just too dangerous," fire information officer Peter D'Aquanni said. "We don't want to put anybody in jeopardy. Safety is always first."

Firefighters returned to their work late Wednesday afternoon on the fire 23 miles north of Steamboat.

Higher humidity and cooler temperatures kept fire activity low for crews, although the fire did creep into a small section of blow-down area.

When fire moves into a blow-down area, there is little that firefighters can do to prevent its spread without putting themselves in danger, said Kim Vogel, district ranger for the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Districts.

Almost 350 people are now assigned to the fire.

The added manpower allowed firefighters to tackle the north end of the fire from the ground for the first time.

The southern end of the blaze still remains the priority, because of its proximity to homes and commercial buildings along Seedhouse Road.

Crews continued to hold the south and southwest corners of the fire, which is 7 percent contained.

More accurate mapping Wednesday revealed the Hinman fire is somewhat smaller than previously estimated.

The fire has only spread to 1,250 acres.

Two other fires in the area, the Green Creek fire in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness area and the Lost Lakes fire in the Flat Tops Wilderness area, are also smaller than projected.

New mapping puts the Green Creek fire at 2,370 acres and the Lost Lakes fire at 1,563 acres.

A new fire was spotted just east of the Hinman fire Tuesday night, but no crews are working on the fire at this time.

"It's burning too closely to the Hinman fire to safely place resources on it," fire information officer Punky Moore said.

U.S. Forest Service officials estimate the Hinman fire has cost $328,000 and the Lost Lakes fire has cost $50,000.

No estimates have yet been made on the Green Creek fire.

Forest Service and county officials held an informational meeting for residents on the three fires Wednesday evening.

Although the Himnan fire has prompted the closure of some trails, campgrounds and Seedhouse Road to all traffic but firefighters and residents, the Forest Service does not intend to cut off the commercial lifeblood of the community, Vogel said.

Businesses in the Seedhouse corridor are allowed to stay open and encouraged to function as they did before the fire and road closure, Vogel added.

"We want to keep businesses going," she said.

No evacuations had been made Wednesday, but county officials have an evacuation plan in place that gives them a two-hour window to get residents out of harm's way.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner reminded people who live along the Seedhouse corridor to place their house address in plain view from the side of the road.

It's important that people prepare for the possibility of an evacuation before they are faced with the real thing, he said.

That means putting together items that would be taken in the event of an evacuation, as well as clearing trees from the perimeter of homes, Routt County Emergency Manager Chuck Vale said.

"If you can't help yourself, we can't help you," he said.

Vogel stressed full suppression was the aim of personnel working on the Hinman fire.

Suppression efforts will not be as concentrated on the Green Creek and Lost Lakes fires, which have spread to mostly wilderness areas where no homes or private property exist.

A team of eight fire officials is monitoring the Lost Lakes fire to see that it does not move beyond a predetermined burn area.

A Type II Fire Use Management Team is expected to assume responsibility for the Green Creek fire, about five miles south of U.S. 40 along Rabbit Ears Pass and four to five miles west of Stagecoach.

The fire is burning in and out of wilderness area, so the fire use team will use suppression tactics where appropriate and only monitor the fire in wilderness areas.

Fire officials don't want to expend valuable resources on wilderness areas that would benefit from a natural fire and might endanger firefighters.

Vogel assured residents in the Catamount and Morrison Creek areas west of the Green Creek fire that resources are concentrated on suppressing the western edge of the blaze.

"We're herding it into the wilderness," she said.

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