by Rick Langenberg:
Despite a huge wildfire that has already scorched nearly 1,000 acres near Lake George and led to the evacuation of at least 200 homes, local emergency officials are ready to wave a temporary victory flag. But at the same time, they admit the prospects of completely taming the Springer fire still may rest in the hands of Mother Nature and in coordinating already “strained resources.” The Springer is one of six major wildfires raging in Colorado, including the High Park blaze that has destroyed nearly 200 homes. “We had a really good day,” announced Teller County Emergency Management Director Steve Steed, when addressing a large crowd of concerned citizens and evacuees during a community meeting at the Woodland Park High School Monday night. “We are in good shape, but we are not out of the woods.” Similar sentiments were echoed by Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, who contended that firefighters have succeeded in keeping the Springer contained in a canyon area and away from any structures, the town of Lake George and Hwy. 24. “It’s a dirty fire,” said Ensminger, who indicated the blaze hasn’t consumed a huge number of tall trees, and has been isolated to more dusty, rocky areas.
The plume of smoke, which was quite visible on Sunday, wasn’t nearly as evident on Monday. Officials also say that limited winds helped the battle against Springer throughout the day. “I don’t think it really grew that much,” added the sheriff. However, many residents are still quite worried about the fire, which grew from several acres to 500 within several hours on Sunday. The fire completely shut down Eleven Mile Canyon and several key roadways. It also forced a major boy scout camp to scurry to find alternatives for nearly 500 troops and family members. Plus, scorching record-breaking temperatures on Monday, with the mercury soaring above 90 degrees in parts of the region, kept the flames quite hot. The cause of the fire is still unknown, although rumors have persisted about shots fired at a propane tank or an explosion.
Officials have declined to comment on the fire investigation. And some residents have persistent memories of the Hayman fire that scorched nearly 140,000 acres in the summer of 2002. Lori Gasnik, a resident of Park County, whose family has been evacuated, grilled emergency officials about the lack of coordination, and sees similarities to the Hayman response. “It depends on what county you are in whether you are going to survive or not,” blasted Gasnik, who lived in Spring Valley during the Hayman, when addressing emergency officials on Monday evening. She complained about the lack of coordination between Teller and Park counties. Ensminger, though, stressed that currently the Springer is a Park County fire and officials there are the lead agency in coordinating the fight. Many subdivisions in Park County have been evacuated. It is estimated that at least 500 people have been forced to flee their homes, with probably another 1,000-plus on standby.
The Woodland Park High School has been established as the evacuation center, with the fairgrounds in Cripple Creek and the Woodland Park Saddle Club serving as hubs for larger animals. In addition, many volunteers have assisted local families. For Teller, the main areas under a possible threat are Wilson Lakes Estates, Forest Glen Sports Association, Blue Mountain, Florissant Heights, Indian Creek and Florissant. The Springer, according to Steed, has now been classified as an Incident Two wildfire, meaning that the feds will pour more resources into the fight. The fire is currently under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. On Monday, 250 firefighters fought the Springer and relied on a limited amount of air support. And while battling the Springer, firefighters had to briefly grapple with a few minor blazes, such as a fire in Aspen Village. “That fire moved rather quickly,” admitted Steed. The number of Springer firefighters is expected to double today. In fact, Tuesday’s battle could determine whether the blaze turns into another Hayman or gets under control. Currently, the fire has featured zero containment.