Firefighters Finish Building Containment Lines Around Eightmile Fire

Fire as seen from Florence (Credit: Christina and Jeremy Wade)

Firefighters say they have completely contained the portion of the Eightmile Fire that they can safely build lines around.

According to the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team B, who took over the fire Saturday morning, containment lines have been built around 65 percent of the fire. That portion of the fire is completely contained. The remaining 35 percent of the fire is being kept under control through use of natural barriers and the slurry dropped over the weekend. Officials say it's too dangerous for firefighters to build lines around that portion of the fire.

Firefighters got the upper hand quickly after the fire blew up Thursday night, exploding from 1.7 acres Thursday to just under 500 acres Friday. Crews got 10 percent of the fire contained Sunday morning, and that number jumped to 40 percent by late Monday evening.

Sunday's success was particularly good news for firefighters, as officials said in a news conference Saturday that the hot and windy weather in Sunday's forecast was concerning.

The fire's growth also slowed significantly after such an active Friday, despite a hot and dry weekend. Since Saturday, it burned roughly 30 more acres, and currently stands at 524 acres.

The pre-evacuation order issued Friday for 16 homes in the Red Rocks subdivision was lifted Monday night. The homes are located on the west side of CR 132 from mile marker 5 to 9.5, outside Penrose.

The fire started off Phantom Canyon Road on Bureau of Land Management land June 23 after a thunderstorm passed through the area, but started producing noticeable smoke on the following day. Lightning started the fire.

Smoke from the fire had been visible for people traveling along Highway 50 in Fremont County since the fire started. The plume became visible in surrounding counties Friday. People in El Paso and Pueblo counties reported seeing the smoke plume.

The fire is exclusively on BLM land in the Eightmile drainage area, six miles northeast of Canon City. The area is remote with steep, rocky terrain, which has made it difficult for firefighters to access. Firefighters hiked to the area the day after the fire started but had to leave after more thunderstorms came through.

With the dramatic increase in size Friday--from a quarter acre at last report Wednesday to 500 acres two days later--dozens of firefighters and air support responded to the scene. More resources arrived over the weekend, including a three-person crew and a brush truck dispatched from Black Forest Sunday afternoon.

"Currently the fire is burning on BLM property and it's expected to remain on BLM property," Kyle Sullivan with the Royal Gorge Inner Agency Unit said Friday. "At this time, there is no risk to private property."

Two campers staying down the road from the fire were moved to a different campground when the fire first broke out.

"They were in a closed area," Ralph Bellah, a spokesman with BLM, said. "Not really an evacuation, just moved them to another camp spot."

After ballooning from Thursday to Friday, the fire continued to spread Friday, with strong winds and high temperatures pushing the fire from 15 acres Friday morning to 60 acres by lunchtime, then to 100 acres by late afternoon. It reached 495 acres by nightfall.

Dan Dallas with the Incident Command team said that the reason for the extreme growth Friday was because significant winds out of the west hit the area in the middle of the night--an unusual time and an unusual wind direction for the area the fire was burning in--and pushed the flames towards new fuel. Significant wind activity throughout the day allowed the fire to continue multiplying in size.

The weather turned largely favorable for firefighting efforts in the days following, outside of hot and dry conditions Sunday. Tuesday in particular saw much cooler temperatures hit the region.

Bellah said firefighters worked Friday to strengthen the fire lines and are trying to "burn out unburned fuels," in order to deprive the fire of more fuel and thus slow its growth.

Officials say that people should expect to see smoke over the next few days, and reminded the public not to call 911.

Phantom Canyon Road is closed between mileposts 4.5 and 13 due to the fire.