Firefighters get handle on blaze

Southern end is nearly secure; 1,310 acres burnt

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— Fresh crews began making progress on the northern end of the Hinman fire Thursday as firefighters stationed along the opposite end of the blaze secured it from spreading farther south.

Rocky, steep heights have so far helped to keep the fire's northern boundary in check.

Bulldozers moved into the area Wednesday to construct containment lines, followed the next day by two 20-person hand crews.

The fire 23 miles north of Steamboat Springs has consumed about 1,310 acres and is 15 percent contained.

Access to the fire's northern edge is difficult for vehicles. Service roads stop about two miles short of their containment lines, so firefighters must hike about 45 minutes of rough and varying terrain to reach their work on the fire.

The northern end of the fire provided the most extreme fire behavior Thursday.

"It's really active today," operations section chief Pat Pacheco said.

Flames sent dark plumes of smoke into the sky, but the absence of strong winds kept the smoke from spreading.

While bulldozers aided firefighters' efforts on the ground, round-the-clock air assaults put a damper on numerous flare-ups.

Aircraft took turns hitting the fire with water from late morning to early evening.

As one helicopter filled its bucket with about 500 gallons of water from nearby Beaver Pond, a second helicopter holding 2,000 gallons of water dumped water on the blaze.

A third aircraft directed their movements to ensure moisture reached the right spots at the right time.

The helicopters have effectively tempered the growth of the fire, Pacheco said.

Fire officials expect three more crews to join men and women already working on the northern end of the fire.

Almost 400 people are assigned to the blaze.

"It's going to be a little army out there," Pacheco said.

Once firefighters secure an anchor in the north and northwest sections of the fire, they will inch toward the fire's opposite end.

Homes and businesses along Seedhouse Road demanded firefighters' attention earlier in the week, but fire officials are feeling more confident about their handle on the southern region of the fire.

About 170 structures were threatened because of their proximity to the blaze.

"We are anchored to the south," operations section chief Alan Beaty said. "We feel that everything down there is secure."

But the absence of the threat doesn't mean their work is done.

Firefighters stationed at the southern end of the fire are combing the area to prevent any flare-ups.

"You can't get complacent," Lawrence Garcia said. "When you get complacent, that's when something happens."

Garcia heads up the Type II Incident Management Team that assumed responsibility for the fire.

Three words sum up his strategy for dealing with the Hinman fire.

"Anchor. Flank. Pinch."

The approach is straightforward.

Firefighters must fix an anchor point at the fire's northern and southern edges.

Once those anchors are set, crews can begin to get around the fire with containment lines.

Lines stemming from both sides of the two anchor points will eventually converge.

"And that's when you pinch," Garcia said.

Officials estimate the pinch will come in a few days, with full containment expected Wednesday.

The fire should be controlled within 15 days.

Fire officials are optimistic about crews' ability to stay on schedule with the amount of resources available.

As of the Thursday, about $1,286,000 had been spent to fight the fire.

"We've worked with what we have and we've held what we have," Garcia said.

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