Mother Nature to the rescue in TRE wildfire fight

Snow and rain may help firefighters douse the 7,500-acre acre Topaz Ranch Estates fire today.

The forecast for Holbrook Junction calls for a snow level of 5,800 feet before 11 a.m. and then a chance of rain.

Firefighters have a line a third of the way around the 7,500-acre Topaz Ranch Estates fire, despite high winds and dry conditions.

Most of the improved line is on the northwest side of the fire, but a bulldozer line has been built along the southern flank of the fire to protect homes in TRE and Smith Valley.

Assistant Incident Commander Steve Goldman said crews managed to get a line around 35 percent of the fire, despite winds and a lack of air support in the later afternoon.

Winds gusting to 40 mph accompanied a red flag warning today, but fire crews managed to keep the fire within the same perimeter through the day.

That was good news to the owners of 25 homes at the mouth of Rickey Canyon in Smith Valley, who spent the last two nights watching flames burn toward them in the mountains.

As of 6:30 p.m. the fire had stopped at about two miles, according to maps prepared by Douglas County Geographic Information System.

The fire is still producing smoke and flames as vegetation within the perimeter burns, fire spokesman Mark Regan said.

Goldman credited the response in the first two days for making it possible for firefighters to hold the line on Thursday.

"They set us up for success," he said.

East Fork Fire Marshal Steve Eisele, who served as co-incident commander on Tuesday and Wednesday, said a lot of the credit belongs to residents, who evacuated quickly when they saw the fire and stayed off the roads.

"Residents self-evacuated and kept the road open," he said. "They did great work on their own."

Open burning in the East Fork Fire District has been canceled early as a result of dry conditions.

Windy conditions are expected to continue into the night, which could result in a change in fire behavior. The automated weather station at Holbrook Junction recorded a 40 mph wind gust at 7:22 p.m. A red flag warning expires at 11 p.m.

"The fire is still on the mountain, which is where we want it," Regan said.

But he warned that conditions could change during the night.

If they do, he said law enforcement, reverse 911 and other means would be used to warn residents.

The cost of fighting the fire was up to $2.3 million as of Thursday evening.

Nearly 600 firefighters are fighting the fire, with 16 handcrews working day and night. Four bulldozers and 21 engines are providing structure protection and support to the hand crews. No tankers were used on Thursday and helicopters were grounded by 2:30 p.m. due to high winds.

The cause of the wildfire is still under investigation. Two homes, 17 outbuildings and scores of vehicles and boats were destroyed in the fire. No one has been hurt fighting the fire.


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