SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo — More than 500 homes are under evacuation or pre-evacuation notice as a wildfire burns near Silverthorne, and officials said the fire was an estimated 85-100 acres in size as it moved to the south during a rain storm Tuesday afternoon.
The White River National Forest said shortly before 3 p.m. Tuesday that winds that accompanied the storm had caused the fire to spread south, though the rain helped reduce fire behavior, and grounded aircraft. Fire officials said during a Tuesday evening press conference they are not seeing containment on the fire at this time, but the rain has helped.
"This amount of rainfall will not extinguish a fire in this fuel type but it helps moderate fire behavior," the forest said in a post to social media.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said at a briefing earlier in the day the fire was an estimated 60 acres. They are reminding visitors and residents to not fly drones around the wildfire.
Officials held an update Tuesday at 6 p.m. They are allowing some evacuated residents to return to their home to grab belongings they may have left behind. That window is from 8 a.m. - 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, and only residents with credentials will be allowed through the two checkpoints, FizSimons said. Credentials will be handed out beginning at 7 a.m. near city hall.
Below is information on evacuations and pre-evacuations for the Ptarmigan Fire, with details on the fire underneath.
A new pre-evacuation notice was issued for County Road 2020, east and uphill of County Road 2020, and north of County Road 2021 to include Daley Ranch due to wildfire activity, the Summit County Sheriff's Office said via Twitter.
We just received this alert on our phones saying a new pre-evacuation notice has been issued for the #PtarmiganFire. Fire officials tell me it’s due to additional growth and strong wind gusts that moved in before the rain. pic.twitter.com/T62l295wRa— Liz Gelardi (@LizGelardi) September 28, 2021
The new pre-evacuation notice comes nearly six hours after the county's Office of Emergency Management issued a new evacuation for Upper Angler Mountain. Fly Line Drive and Bald Eagle Road were also under a pre-evacuation notice.
On Monday, around 5:30 p.m., the upper Hamilton Creek neighborhood was instructed to evacuate, followed a few hours later by the lower Hamilton Creek neighborhood. The Angler Mountain Ranch neighborhood and South 40 neighborhood are under pre-evacuation notice as well.
In total, about 300 residences were evacuated, according to Summit Fire & EMS. Around 536 residences are under evacuation or pre-evacuation orders, with a total risk value of $400 million, Summit County Sheriff FitzSimons said.
“Our top priority is public safety,” FitzSimons said. “We prefer to err more on the side of caution and make sure that we have everybody out before there is an imminent threat.”
He said it's easier to move people out of the neighborhoods in conditions like Monday evening than in a last-minute panic.
Eddie O'Brien, who has lived in Silverthorne for 30 years in the Hamilton Creek area, said he was out of his home moments after receiving the evacuation notice.
"When they were saying the evacuation is mandatory, we were already in the driveway ready to go," O'Brien said. "...Our community, which is Hamilton Creek, has been getting ready for this literally since the beetle kill came through here, so we feel pretty confident that we're in good shape."
Jay Harlan, another person forced to evacuate, said he has never seen a wildfire this close to his home. He estimated it was about 900 yards above his house in Hamilton Creek.
"It is what it is; we want to stay out of the way and let the professionals do their job," Harlan said. "I'm trying to figure out how to alter my snow dance into a rain dance. You know, the best I can do is maybe I'll go out and wash the car."
Good news! It’s raining in Summit County as crews battle the #PtarmiganFire. I interviewed a resident earlier who told me he was trying to turn his snow dance into a rain dance and he was going to get his car washed to make sure it rained. I’d like to think that must’ve worked. pic.twitter.com/97NtIZYTN2— Liz Gelardi (@LizGelardi) September 28, 2021
An American Red Cross evacuation shelter was established at Summit Middle School, located at 158 School Road in Frisco. The school is on a normal schedule Tuesday. A secondary shelter at the school will be set up Tuesday evening, FitzSimons said.
Click here to sign up for emergency alerts in Summit County. A public hotline is set up: 970-668-9700.
The Ptarmigan Fire, which was reported around 4:30 p.m. Monday, is burning primarily on Ptarmigan Peak in the White River National Forest. It's burning in heavy mixed timber, including dense stands of dead-standing and downed pines.
According to aerial mapping overnight, the fire was about 17 acres as of Monday at 10 p.m., officials said. It grew an estimated 40 acres overnight for a total around 60 acres, said Dillon District Ranger Adam Bianchi. Aircraft has not flown the fire to confirm this, but that is their estimate, he said. By 3 p.m., the fire was estimated at 83 acres in size, according to the White River National Forest. It was estimated to be around 85-100 acres as of Tuesday evening.
Fire officials started attacking the fire shortly after it was reported, including from their air.
On Monday afternoon, a Type I helicopter dropped buckets of water over the fire and two single-engine air tankers released lines of retardant. This vigorous aerial attack helped prevent the fire from reaching developed areas, officials said.
On Monday evening, fire officials said in a briefing that weather expected Tuesday are favorable for firefighting — lower overnight temperatures and higher humidity, plus a cold front arriving Tuesday.
Summit Fire & EMS Chief Travis Davis said crews will stay in the evacuated neighborhoods overnight to monitor the blaze. He said the goal is to "hit it hard in the morning" on Tuesday.
Bianchi said they saw a lot of fire activity overnight, despite dropping temperatures, which was unexpected. Some wind pushed the fire and embers north.
More firefighters and air resources arrived at the scene Tuesday morning, including engines from Clear Creek, Vail, Grand Fire, Leadville-Lake County, Eagle River and East Grand.
Hand crews will attempt to get into the area on foot Tuesday to start building fire lines, if possible.
Bianchi said a Chinook helicopter and a smaller helicopter will both drop as much water as possible on the fire Tuesday. Two 20-person hand crews are en-route to the fire and one suppression crew of seven people is currently working around the fire and directing air resources, he said.
The goal for Tuesday is to keep the fire from moving south and west, which is downhill toward housing developments. That side of the fire is mostly grass, sage and aspens, which will let crews engage the fire more aggressively, he said. A large air tanker will also work to put retardant in this area.
"Our hope now is get a little containment and catch it and prevent it from going to the west, is the goal," Bianchi said.
The next few days will depend on fire behavior Tuesday, but crews will continue to focus on main blaze and spot fires.
A joint fire command including Summit Fire & EMS, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service is managing the fire.
The social media accounts and websites for Summit County, Summit Fire & EMS, the Town of Silverthorne and the U.S. Forest Service will also post updates.
Recreational access to Ptarmigan Peak and Angler Mountain are closed. Summit Middle School and Silverthorne Elementary School are operating normally.
Do not fly drones in the area as it interferes with aerial firefighting.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but the fire does cross a trail, Bianchi said.
Denver7's Liz Gelardi and Blair Miller contributed to this report.