Town near Colorado ski resort welcomes visitors despite fire

Posted at 10:18 PM, Jul 07, 2017

DENVER (AP) — The historic mountain town near Breckenridge Ski Resort welcomed visitors who help drive its economy, despite a nearby wildfire Friday that forced residents to be ready to flee in case the blaze blows up.

No houses have burned in the small blaze that is one of several in Colorado and around the U.S. West.

Despite the threat near Breckenridge, which is dotted with 19th century Victorian buildings, hundreds of people were expected at an annual summer beer festival Saturday. But ticketholders were warned that the main highway may be periodically closed by firefighters attacking the blaze that evacuated nearly 500 homes outside town, many of them pricey ski properties.

Summit County Undersheriff Joel Cochran said those residents could return home Friday night, but he warned them to be prepared to leave again if conditions change. “You still need to be ready to go, but you don’t have to stay out of your homes any longer,” he said after residents cheered the announcement at a community meeting.

People can still take gondola rides to the ski resort for mountain views and play at its summer fun park. But a handful of hiking and biking trails, including a 13-mile segment of the popular 486-mile Colorado Trail, were closed.

Hikers and bikers on the Colorado Trail that runs from outside Denver to Durango can detour around the closure by taking a paved bike trail or hopping on a free bus connecting ski resort communities, said Bill Manning, executive director of the Colorado Trail Foundation.

People were worried when the fire first broke out and spread rapidly Wednesday, sending a huge plume of smoke into the air, said Balazs Jarai, general manager of the Bivouac Bivvi Hostel in Breckenridge. But he said the mood in town Friday was “pretty relaxed.”

“It’s pretty much business as usual,” said Jarai, whose hostel often hosts hikers.

A popular bicycle ride that takes riders over three mountain passes near Breckenridge was canceled because of smoke and a neighboring blaze to avoid taxing police who direct traffic along the route.

The fire has scorched less than a quarter of a square mile (square kilometer) and is about 1½ miles (1.6 kilometers) from the closest evacuated home. It initially spread dramatically but has not grown in the following days thanks to cooler, cloudier weather.

PHOTOS: See shots from the fire by tapping on this link | MAP: See fires currently burning in Colorado

Firefighters are being cautious amid the possibility of afternoon storms in the summer that can bring winds that fan the flames. Crews were slowly building containment lines to stop the fire’s spread in beetle-killed trees prone to toppling. The work would take a while, incident commander Todd Pechota said.

“I’m scared we’re going to get somebody killed, not from the fire, but from trees falling over,” he said.

Investigators do not know what sparked the blaze that’s one of several in the Western United States, parts of which are sweltering under extreme heat, including California.

A blaze in the Little Rocky Mountains of Montana grew to 13 square miles (33 square kilometers) and threatened a small town. Officials bolstered crews and equipment to protect buildings Friday after about 40 residents were urged to leave the historic mining town of Landusky.

In New Mexico, a wildfire in steep terrain kept a popular viewing spot at the top of a mountain range overlooking Albuquerque. Authorities blocked a road that leads to Sandia Crest and have evacuated the viewing area, but no buildings were at risk.

Next door in Arizona, firefighters planned to set fires Friday to prevent a nearly 40-square-mile (104-square-kilometer) wildfire in the mountains overlooking Tucson from reaching an evacuated summer-retreat community.