June 18, 2012
LAKE GEORGE -- Flames and rumors started to spread again Monday as firefighters from around the region descended on this flyfishing resort town to battle a 450-acre blaze that forced evacuation of a Boy Scout Camp, tourists, dozens of homes and livestock.
A helicopter was visible flying above the region Monday and fire officials said two helicopters and four air tankers expected to fight the fire Monday along with upwards of 400 firefighters on the ground by the end of the day.
The air tankers were diverted from the High Park Fire near Fort Collins. Two single-engine tankers have been assigned to the Springer Fire and officials have ordered two more.
As a battle plan was executed Monday, fire officials began investigating rumors of how the fire began Sunday morning.
The manager at the Indian Paint Brush Ranch, who did not want her name used, said investigators were on the ranch property just before 11 a.m. Monday.
The manager told The Gazette that she and 10 others were horseback riding Sunday when they heard gunshots and an explosion, then saw flames rise from some brush.
The group immediately rode back to the ranch stables and called 911, she said. The manager said a few of the riders reported seeing a truck with two men leaving the area about 30 seconds after the flames ignited.
When asked if those flames spread and turned into the Springer blaze, the manager said, “Oh, yes, definitely.”
Greg Heule, a spokesman for fire officials, would not confirm any stories Monday morning. He said they were treating them as “just rumors” until the investigation was complete.
After a calm morning, white smoke started build south of Lake George, which sits along the South Platte River on U.S. Highway 24 about 30 miles west of Colorado Springs.
The smoke grew as winds from the southwest picked up, fanning the fire located about 4 miles south of town in the rugged Elevenmile Canyon, which leads to the Elevenmile Reservoir.
Heule said fire officials are concerned that temperatures in the 80s and expected gusts of up to 30 mph could be disastrous for the already extremely dry conditions.
“Some of the heavy fuels on the ground out there are burning to white ash,” Heule said.
Residents are bracing for disaster.
Gloria Thompson, 68, waited just after 8 a.m. Monday across from Starky’s General Store in Lake George.
Thompson, who evacuated from her home Sunday evening, had just driven by the town fire station in hopes of receiving a report about her home. Officials told her to meet at the site along U.S. Highway 24 for a public information meeting.
The Lake George resident of six years said she came home from church Sunday at about 4:15 p.m. “driving through the smoke.” A neighbor told her of the evacuations, so she and others packed up belongings and left their homes south of town.
Thompson stayed in Woodland Park with a friend Sunday night and said it is hard to stay optimistic.
"We’ve got a lot of prayer chains going, even in Oklahoma where my daughter lives,” Thompson said. “God takes care of us. That’s made me stronger for this challenge.”
Evacuee Todd Pyle stood outside the Lake George Cafe & Pizzaria just before 6 a.m. Monday looking to the south, smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee.
“I don’t have a house right now,” he said. Pyle said he and wife, Caroline, stayed in their camper near their son’s cabin in Divide Sunday night.
The Pyles received word to evacuate at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Pyle works as the caretaker of the Elevenmile Reservoir dam for Denver Water.
Like many others in the town at the Park and Teller county line, Pyle is concerned that predicted hot, windy weather Monday could make the Springer blaze explode.
“That’s what scares me,” he said, “high winds could bring it back up.”
Pyle said the fire was less than a mile from his house when he left Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Park County Office of Emergency Management has set up a hotline for Springer Fire evacuees and those interested in helping out.
Brian Foltz, with the office, said people can call 866-760-6489 with questions or to volunteer with fire efforts.
“Don’t call 911,” Foltz insisted. “unless it’s a direct threat to life and property.”
The hotline is directly linked to Park County emergency officials.
Also, the command post is moving to the Lake George Charter School, Heule said.