Indian Gulch fire near Golden: Human-caused, investigation underway (VIDEOS)

Update, 12:40 p.m. March 24: The Indian Gulch fire near Golden is a high priority with the feds -- and now, Governor John Hickenlooper has stepped into the breach as well.

Hickenlooper has issued an emergency disaster declaration for the blaze, which authorizes $1.5 million in state aid to continue the fight.

Here's a release from the governor's office, followed by our previous coverage:

Gov. Hickenlooper issues emergency fire declaration

DENVER -- Thursday, March 24, 2011 -- Gov. John Hickenlooper today issued an emergency disaster declaration for the Indian Gulch Fire in Jefferson County. The executive order authorizes $1.5 million in state aid to help pay firefighting costs and directs the state to seek additional funds from the federal government if necessary.

"We are making all resources available to fight this fire near Golden," Hickenlooper said. "The very dry and gusty conditions are complicating firefighting efforts to control the blaze. These additional resources will help to reduce the loss of life and property."

The Indian Gulch Fire has spread to more than 1,500 acres, including state and private land. Currently, several area businesses and more than 280 homes are threatened. Approximately 37 agencies, including the Colorado State Forest Service, the U.S. Forest Service and local emergency teams, have responded to the wildfire by deploying a variety of resources, including approximately 290 firefighters, 30 engines, two air tankers and three helicopters.

Here is the full text of the Governor's order:

D 2011-08

EXECUTIVE ORDER

Declaring a Disaster Emergency Due to the Indian Gulch Fire in Jefferson County

Pursuant to the authority vested in the Governor of the State of Colorado and, in particular, pursuant to relevant portions of the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act of 1992, C.R.S. § 24-32-2100, et seq., John W. Hickenlooper, Governor of the State of Colorado, hereby issues this Executive Order declaring a state of disaster emergency due to the wildfire in Jefferson County, Colorado.

I. Background and Purpose

On Sunday, March 20, 2011, a wildfire ("Indian Gulch Fire") broke out west of Golden in Jefferson County in between Golden Gate and Clear Creek Canyons. As of the morning of March 24th, the fire has spread to more than 1,500 acres, including state and private lands. Over 280 homes are currently threatened as well as several area businesses. In addition, gusty winds and dry weather threaten to exacerbate the fire. Because of the fire's proximity to state lands, the city of Golden, and residences in Golden Gate Canyon, an aggressive response is essential. Approximately 37 agencies, including the Colorado State Forest Service, the U.S. Forest Service and local emergency teams, have responded to the wildfire by deploying a variety of resources, including approximately 290 firefighters, 30 engines, two air tankers and three helicopters.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency ("FEMA") has authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs. FEMA's authorization makes federal funding available to reimburse seventy-five percent of the state's eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for responding to and controlling designated fires.

The Governor is responsible for meeting the dangers to the state and people presented by disasters. The Colorado Disaster Emergency Act of 1992, defines a disaster as "the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damages, injury or loss of life or property resulting from any natural cause or cause of human origin, including but not limited to . . . fire." C.R.S. § 24-32-2103(1.5). The Indian Gulch Fire's proximity to state lands, the city of Golden, and residences in Golden Gate Canyon pose an imminent danger to life and property and, therefore, constitute a disaster for the purposes of the Act.

II. Declaration and Directives

A. The Indian Gulch Fire hereby constitutes a disaster emergency for the purposes of C.R.S. § 24-32-2103.

B. The State Emergency Operations Plan ("Plan") is hereby activated. All State departments and agencies shall take whatever actions may be required and requested by the Director of the Division of Emergency Management or the Colorado State Forest Service, including provision of appropriate staff and equipment as necessary.

C. Pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-32-2106, the funds in the Disaster Emergency Fund are hereby found insufficient; therefore, pursuant to Section 1 (2)(b)(I) of Ch. 453, Session Laws of Colorado 2010, it is ordered that $1,500,000 be transferred from the Major Medical Insurance Fund to the Disaster Emergency Fund. It is further ordered that up to $1,500,000 from the Disaster Emergency Fund is encumbered to pay for the response and recovery efforts related to the Indian Gulch Fire since its inception. The Colorado State Forester is hereby authorized and directed to allocate the funding to the appropriate government agencies. These funds shall remain available for this purpose for one year from the date of this Executive Order, and any unexpended funds shall remain in the Disaster Emergency Fund.

D. The Director of the Colorado Division of Emergency Management and the Colorado State Forest Service are authorized and directed to coordinate application to the federal government for funds available for reimbursement and to coordinate application for any other funds available related to this disaster emergency.

III. Duration

This Executive Order shall expire thirty days from its date of signature unless extended further by Executive Order, except that the funds described in paragraph II(C) above shall remain available for the described purposes for one year from the date of this Executive Order.

GIVEN under my hand and the Executive Seal of the State of Colorado this twenty-fourth day of March, 2011.

John W. Hickenlooper
Governor

Update, 10:53 a.m. March 24: The Indian Gulch fire near Golden is a top wildfire priority nationally; at this writing, it's in the number one slot on the feds' Inciweb.org website.

And while the winds that were helping to fuel the blaze have died down to a significant degree, they did significant damage, increasing the number of burned acres from around 1,200 to 1,502.

Here's the latest from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, followed by our earlier coverage.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office release, 9:43 a.m.:

Lower temperatures and wind speeds aided firefighters on the Indian Gulch Fire burning to the West of Golden, Colorado in unincorporated Jefferson County. Hand crews extended existing fire lines on the South and Southeast perimeters as the fire grew 300 acres for a total of 1,502 acres burned to date. The Indian Gulch Fire remains 25% containment with a total of 401 personnel working representing over 40 local, State, and Federal agencies on the fire.

"There has been tremendous community support for the firefighters' efforts which has directly benefited all the work done so far on the fire" said Incident Commander Rowdy Muir of the Great Basin Incident Management Team. "Our work has also been significantly aided by our working relationship with Sheriff Mink and everyone at the Sheriff's Office, Jefferson County, and the Colorado State Forest Service and is an excellent example of the benefits of interagency cooperation for suppressing interface fires such as the Indian Gulch Fire."

A Stage 2 Fire Ban is currently in place for all areas of incorporated Jefferson County to include all Federal lands.

Fire Statistics:

• Date started: March 20, 2011, 10:15 am

• Acreage: 1,502

• Structures Threatened: 287

• Air Resources: 1 Type 1 Helicopter, 1 Type 2 Helicopter, 1 Type 3 Helicopter, 2 Single Engine Air Tankers, 1 Fixed Wing Heavy Tanker.

• Closures: Golden Gate Canyon Drive, US Highway 6.

• Containment: 25%

Update, 7:28 a.m. March 24: The Indian Gulch fire hasn't laid down and died yet. Indeed, most recent estimates continue to put containment at just 25 percent -- although firefighters are confident they'll reach the 80 percent threshold by this weekend. Moreover, the acres destroyed to date remain in the 1,200 acre range. Could today finally mark the turning point in the fight?

Look below to see the latest updates from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, including a new map of the burn area. Also on view: a couple of videos that demonstrate how window conditions have been along the foothills. Then page down to read our earlier coverage.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office releases:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011: Evening Indian Gulch Fire update

The following are updates to the Indian Gulch Fire as of Wednesday evening:

• The fire is 25% contained.
• Six additional fire crews arrived Wednesday. Fire managers do not anticipate the need for any additional fire crews.
• On Wednesday, crews launched a direct attack on the north side of the fire, meaning that they began digging fire line along the north side.
• A Type 1 helicopter was able to fly most of the day, and launched multiple successful air attacks on the fire (water drops). It dropped 1,000-1,200 gallons of water at a time. Ralston Reservoir was used for dipping.
• Some large rocks were dislodged on the south perimeter of the fire due to the large water drops. As a result, Highway 6 was closed as a precaution. No rocks fell on the road. Highway 6 will remain closed until further notice.
• Type 2 and Type 3 helicopters were also used today.
• No SEATs were used today due to erratic winds.
• The threat to homes on the east end of the fire has diminished greatly.
• None of the firefighters has been injured.
5:42 PM

New map of fire area as of Wednesday evening

indian gulch fire map.jpg
The multi-agency IMT has released this new map of the fire's area. The fire has grown to 1,500 acres.
5:29 PM

Evacuation center to close; Red Cross will remain on standby

From The Red Cross: The Red Cross will close the evacuation center at the First United Methodist Church, 1500 Ford St. in Golden, at 3 p.m. today. The Red Cross will remain on standby to meet feeding and sheltering needs related to the Indian Gulch fire should conditions change. Residents affected by the Indian Gulch fire who have questions or disaster-related needs can contact the Red Cross Mile High Chapter at 303-722-7474.
3:08 PM

Highway 6 temporarily closed from Hwy. 119-Hwy 58

Highway 6 is temporarily closed from Highway 119 to Highway 58 pending a heavy water drop on the fire nearby. The closure is a precaution, in case the water drop causes a rockslide.
2:00 PM

Update on fire as of 1:30 p.m.

Favorable weather conditions have aided fire crews as they continue to fight the Indian Gulch Fire burning less than a mile away from the Town of Golden. The fire is burning in steep, treacherous terrain amongst a mixed conifer forest where there is no road access. Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft have resumed dropping water and fire retardant along the perimeter of the fire. The Indian Gulch Fire has burned a total of 1211 acres.

Access to Golden Gate Canyon Road remains restricted and residents are encouraged to maintain a heightened awareness should an evacuation be ordered. Fire crews are concentrating resources on the north, northwestern corridor of the fire. "While the fire remains a few miles away from Golden Gate Canyon Drive, this is an excellent opportunity for residents to prepare their homes by creating defensible space, and themselves by putting together kits with personal belongings," said Incident Commander Rowdy Muir.

There are a total of 290 firefighters on the Indian Gulch Fire. Crews represent firefighters from local, state, and federal agencies within and outside the state of Colorado. A National Incident Management Team from the Great Basin assumed command of the Indian Gulch Fire at 0600 this morning.

FIRE STATISTICS

• Date started: March 20, 2011, 10:15 am
• Acreage: 1211
• Structures Threatened: 287
• Air Resources: 1 Type 1 Helicopter, 1 Type 2 Helicopter, 1 Type 3 Helicopter, 2 single engine air tankers (SEAT), 1 fixed wing heavy tanker.
• Closures: Golden Gate Canyon Road.
• Containment: 25%
1:39 PM

Air tactical resources active

Fire crews are being assisted by an air crew that is flying above the fire and observing any changes in fire behavior. The air crew can relay information about fire behavior to crews on the ground. These "eyes in the sky" are currently ensuring that commanders are aware of the fire's breadth and activity.
1:26 PM

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