County declares ‘disaster area’ | CraigDailyPress.com

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County declares ‘disaster area’

Officials estimate Thomas Fire damage at $250,000

From two to three miles away, Bob Molloy, a decade-long resident of the small Greystone community, caught a view Tuesday of the wildfire that came to scorch thousands of acres in western Moffat County this week.

“It spread very rapidly,” Molloy of the Thomas Fire, which was caused by lightning. “You could see the flames jump. … It would just engulf trees. You’d just see this huge fireball.”

Moffat County commissioners were similarly awed by the fire’s might. On Wednesday afternoon, they declared the affected fire area, which 210 firefighters and support staff continue to battle, a disaster area.

High winds, warm temperatures and dry plants combined to produce hazardous conditions ripe for fire, and that’s exactly what occurred Tuesday on Bureau of Land Management ground, 36 miles west of Maybell, near Greystone.

The fire grew to 3,700 acres, a figure that was reduced to 3,500 Thursday, BLM officials said.

Lynn Barclay, a BLM spokeswoman and a fire mitigation and education specialist, described Thursday’s fire activity as “minimal.” She also said crews have contained 60 percent of the fire and expect it to be fully contained by 6 p.m. Saturday.

Fire officials met with county representatives Wednesday afternoon and reported three possible scenarios for the fire.

The one deemed most appropriate for the future of the fire — the scenario Barclay called “middle of the road” — was it possibly growing to encompass 7,500 acres, with a cost $1.85 million in labor, equipment and administrative costs.

However, based on Thursday’s positive strides, it doesn’t appear the fire will reach those estimates.

“It doesn’t look like it’s in the forecast,” she said. “At this point, it doesn’t look like a possibility, but I never say never. Strange things happen.”

Two other scenarios entail it engulfing 4,500 acres at a cost of $1.2 million and the worst-case possibility of 10,000 acres with a $2.5 million price tag.

The cost of fighting the fire is $255,000 so far, Barclay said.

On Thursday, firefighters reported that lower temperatures and more humidity from a cold front lessened the fire’s intensity.

Earlier in the week, the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office recommended that Greystone residents evacuate their homes. The community received smoke from the nearby fire.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross set up an evacuation center but no Greystone residents reported to the hall, and it has since been closed. The Red Cross has left the area, Barclay said.

“They were there if needed,” she said. “It’s always a good thing if you don’t have to use them.”

Steele commended the efforts made by firefighters and county and state agencies to manage and suppress the fire.

“They’ve done a really good job of coordinating,” Steele said.

Like Steele, Molloy was impressed with the crews’ work fighting the fire.

“They’ve done a really good job containing this fire,” he said. “These guys pooled their resources. I’m very impressed with what they are doing. Tuesday night, it was like looking at the lights of a city going with all the fire.”