While a cold-weather storm system is assisting firefighters against the 2,000-acre Crystal Fire burning in the mountains west of Fort Collins, conditions are also grounding three air water-drop vehicles and high winds are slowing efforts to evacuate animals abandoned by fleeing residents.
The system began dropping heavy snow in the area this morning, and shifting winds began to push the fire back on itself, aiding firefighting efforts. Those same conditions, however, have also decreased visibility for pilots flying overhead in a heavy helicopter, Single Engine Air Transport and Heavy Air Tanker to drop fire retardant, leading U.S. Forest Service officials to cancel the flights.
Reghan Cloudman, a fire information officer for the Forest Service, said, while the vehicles do help in containment efforts, â€œtheyâ€™re not whatâ€™s going to contain the fire like the firefighters on the ground.â€
According to the National Weather Service, snow showers are likely today, with wind gusts up to 31 miles per hour. One to two inches of snow are expected to fall.
A press release issued by the forest service at 10:30 a.m. said operations against the fire have been stepped up this morning, and the about 200 personnel on scene today will be working to keep the public and firefighters safe, control the fire, set a perimeter and begin damage assessment.
According to a Forest Service website, a Type-3 management team, made up of local fire crews currently fighting the fire. A Type-1 team, which includes state and national personnel trained to deal with complex situations, is expected to arrive tomorrow.
Cloudman said firefighters are waiting for a full picture before providing new information about fire containment, but the Forest Service website lists the fire at 5 percent contained. Information about the efforts is slow to trickle out, she said, because the firefighters are focusing primarily on combating the fire.
More than 300 people have been evacuated and structures have been damaged, but the extent of the damage has yet to be determined.
Larimer County officials have called in Red Cross organizers to set up shelters for evacuees at Cache La Poudre Elementary School at 3511 West County Road 54G in Laporte and at Big Thompson Elementary School at 7702 West Highway 34 in Loveland.
A community meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Big Thompson.
â€œWhen you get involved with the Red Cross, one of the things we learn is to stay cool,â€ said Marty Martindale, a Red Cross volunteer deployed to feed firefighters in the field and tend to the evacuation shelter at Cache La Poudre Elementary School, adding that if he were instead a resident affected by the fire, â€œI would be hectic â€¦ I would not be standing still.â€
For animals displaced by the blaze, The Livestock Pavilion at the Ranch has been opened up for temporary shelter.
The Larimer Humane Society is also taking in dogs, cats, small mammals and small farm animals, and according to an employee of the Larimer Humane Society who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press, the organization deployed half of its staff to perform â€œwelfare checksâ€ on abandoned animals.
â€œHorses have to be abandoned sometimes,â€ said Roberto Rockwell, who lives near the evacuation area. â€œPeople have to leave them behind if they donâ€™t have a horse trailer.â€
Those goat-size or smaller were taken in by the humane society, and, if deemed necessary, staff provided larger animals were given food and water where they were found.
But violent winds forced Humane Society organizers to call the officers back. Efforts will resume with less dangerous weather conditions.
To report abandoned animals in need of help, homeowners are encouraged contact animal control dispatch officers at 970-226-3647 ext. 5.
The blaze started Saturday afternoon on private property and encompassed only about 25 acres as the sun set. Firefighters had the fire at about 30 percent containment before wind gusts as high as 50 miles per hour whipped the flames out of control.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Roads in the area are now shut down to anyone but emergency workers and residents are asked not to try to return to their homes.
Check back for more information throughout the day.