After a small fire outside Breckenridge erupted into an inferno Wednesday afternoon, the popular ski town in Summit County, Colorado, is still under pre-evacuation notice.
Located about four miles north of Breckenridge, the fire was reported at 11 a.m. yesterday by a mountain biker who said at the time it only seemed to be about 50 square feet. By the late afternoon, the blaze had spread to over 80 acres across Breck's Peak 2.
By 2 p.m. the fire was billowing an enormous cloud of thick, black smoke, and at 3 p.m., the Peak 7 neighborhood, about three miles away from the fire line, was put under a mandatory evacuation, which affected an estimated 450 homes. The entire town of Breckenridge was also placed on a pre-evac notice, which will remain in place until the fire is brought more under control.
Eight smokejumpers and more than 60 firefighters from Summit, Park, and Grand counties were mobilized to fight the flames, however, officials say they hit a stroke of luck when around 5 p.m., increased winds pushed the fire back into where it had already burned, slowing its growth.
"We would like to take credit for that," said Jim Keating, chief of the Red White and Blue Fire Protection District in an interview with the Denver Post, "but we've got to give credit to the winds."
While officials have yet to confirm the initial source of the fire, higher than normal temperatures and beetle-kill forests are receiving blame for its quick spread.
"Recent weather has been hot and dry in Breckenridge," said Dave Bottomly, who works for Faction Skis located downtown, just minutes from the resort. "The last precipitation I can remember was the 24-inch pow day on May 19. The snow melted quickly after that event. We've had summers here where it didn't break 80 degrees once. It has already broken 80 a few times this spring."
Temperatures in the area are between 5 and 10 degrees above normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service in Boulder.
"The real problem with where the fire is burning is that there are acres of dead, dry beetle-kill trees," said Kellyn Wilson, a Boulder-based skier who has spent the last four years touring nearby Peak 10 on the 4th of July. "While we had a snowy winter and heavy late spring snow, the temperatures haven't been cold enough to kill the beetles, leaving a forest full of dry timber."
Wilson said their campsite at the base of Peak 10 was the driest she's ever seen it, and that even on the snow the weather was in the 80s and everything was dry as a bone.
The Peak 2 fire is just one of at least five currently burning across the state of Colorado right now, the largest being the Gutzler fire, engulfing more than 300 acres further into the mountains in Eagle County.
Elite Hotshot firefighters, smokejumpers, and local fire departments will continue to monitor the fire, as increasing temperatures and changes in wind may lead to another flare up, but officials say they are hopeful that the fire is mostly under control, and will continue to update the public as any new information arises.