USA–– Crews continue today to battle a blaze that has burned at least 2,100 acres one mile west of Wetmore.
As of Wednesday evening, officials considered the fire 15 percent contained. The Wetmore Fire sparked Tuesday afternoon and is believed to have damaged or destroyed 14 residential structures in Custer County.
Officials met with homeowners Wednesday afternoon to update them in the condition of their properties and will meet with them again at 1 p.m. today at the First Southern Baptist Church, 303 E. Third St. in Florence. Wetmore residents were advised that they can pick up their mail at the Florence Post Office.
Ralph Bellah, fire prevention officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said crews experienced extreme fire behavior Tuesday because of high winds, which caused aerial resources to remain grounded; however, they made several water drops on Wednesday.
“We have two Type 1 helicopters on their way today,” said Woody Percival of the Pueblo City Fire Department on Wednesday. “In the meantime, we have one Type 3 helicopter that is working the fire lines, along with two SEATs and one air attack, as well.”
Also on scene are two hot shot hand crews, two Type 2 crews and 11 engines.
Bellah said crews expect more favorable weather today and Friday that may help them to gain an upper hand on the fire.
“A cold front is supposed to be coming in, so the temperatures should be down about 20 degrees Thursday and maybe even another 10 degrees Friday,” he said.
About 386 residents have been evacuated, according to Custer County Sheriff Fred Jobe. The evacuations in place are for Greenwood, Wetmore and east of Wetmore into Pueblo County. A Reverse 911 was utilized Tuesday, but because of fire damage to utility lines, a multi-agency, house-to-house notification was implemented.
Some evacuation orders were lifted Wednesday for the residents in the Red Creek Ranch area in Pueblo County.
Additional elective evacuations were performed along Siloam Road in western Pueblo County on Tuesday night as the strong winds pushed the fire eastward. The public is being asked to stay out of the area.
Colo. 96 is closed westbound from the Pueblo Reservoir south entrance to Wetmore and eastbound from Colo.165 to Wetmore. Colorado 67 is closed southbound from County Road 15 to Wetmore.
Local resources have been working around the clock to maintain the road closures and structure protection for incoming fire crews.
“Lives and structures are our priority,” Bellah said in a press release Wednesday.
About 160 firefighters from more than 16 agencies are working as a team to fight the fire. A Type 2 Incident Management Team took over management of the fire Wednesday evening.
Participating agencies include Custer, Fremont, Pueblo and Chaffee counties; Colorado State Patrol, Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management; Pueblo, Pueblo West, Cañon City, Florence, Penrose, Wetmore and Tallahassee fire departments.
The fire is burning in grass, Ponderosa Pine and Oak Brush. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but no injuries to crews or residents have been reported.
“The only thing that we can say for certain at this point in time in this investigation is that the story of that (the fire) was caused by a structure fire — we can disprove that at this point,” Percival said.
Evacuated parties are being referred to the First Southern Baptist Church in Florence. Bill Fortune, public information officer for the American Red Cross, said the shelter is set up in the church’s gym and volunteers are ready and available with food, snacks, water, health services and counseling if necessary.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs. FEMA Deputy Regional Administrator Doug Gore approved the state’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant after receiving the state’s request Tuesday afternoon.
Officials will offer a disaster recovery information center, a “one stop” resource center, for victims, including insurance and other programs to help with recovery from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Wetmore Volunteer Fire Station, 200 CR 290.