Decker Fire Grows By 200 Acres, Keeping Evacuees, Fire Officials On Edge

October 6, 2019
The Decker Fire burns on the southwest part of its perimeter on Saturday, Oct. 5 in Saguache County. The Decker Fire burns on the southwest part of its perimeter on Saturday, Oct. 5 in Saguache County. Courtesy of Incident Information System
The Decker Fire burns on the southwest part of its perimeter on Saturday, Oct. 5 in Saguache County.

Despite gusty winds, the Decker Fire gained only a little ground on Saturday -- about 200 acres. 

Officials report that the fire is now burning 6,155 acres 2 miles south of Salida in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. The containment has stayed at 5 percent.

In a Sunday briefing, Operations Section Chief Rob Powell said about 800 firefighters are continuing to create fire containment lines on the northwest and south portions of the fire in Chaffee and Fremont counties. 

There are no crews in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. 

“We are not taking any action in there other than some heavy helicopter work,” Powell said. “It’s just too rough, too dangerous to put folks in there. We don’t put people in places where we don’t have a high probability of success.”

The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the fire has destroyed at least two structures, one in Fremont and one in Chaffee. 

The fire has forced many residents to evacuate and put several towns under pre-evacuation orders. Chaffee County officials announced that the evacuation orders in some of the areas will be lifted as of 3 p.m. Sunday.

But those allowed back into their homes will be kept under pre-evacuation status. Officials said that fire activity and smoke will still be visible and that firefighters will be burning control lines in the area.

Brian Eagleson lives in Mountain Vista Village in Salida and he was surprised when he had to evacuate. He was at a meeting in downtown Salida where residents were getting updates on the fire Saturday.

“I woke up at 3:30 this Wednesday morning by the sheriff's knocking on the door and asking me to leave,” he said.

Eagleson is staying at his boss’ friend’s house until he can get back into his home. He said some of his co-workers have also been evacuated. 

This is the first time a wildfire has threatened the town of Salida. In 2016, the Hayden Fire ripped through a mountain pass 30 miles southeast of here. 

Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper said he was around then, and it’s one reason seeing the Decker Fire makes him anxious.

“One of the concerns I had is for those of you that have stock -- horses, cattle, llamas, alpacas, that kind of stuff,” he said on Friday. 

The Humane Society helped people under pre-evacuation orders relocate their livestock. It’s just one way this community has rallied in the face of the fire. 

Restaurants in town have donated food to the Red Cross shelter at the local United Methodist Church, which has been busy serving meals. 

Hayley Sanchez/CPR
Averi Schaubman shows a photo of her house with a sprinkler system firefighters set up around it the day before she was evacuated. She was sitting at the Red Cross Shelter at the United Methodist Church in Salida on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019.

Averi Schaubman ate lunch there on Saturday, one of several meals she has had at the shelter since fleeing her home. 

Schaubman says she and her husband moved into their newly built home just two weeks before they had to get out. 

“My neighbor down the road who had also been watching the fire texted us and said the mountain is glowing. And so we went out on our deck and looked up and all you could see was this red glow behind the mountain,” she said.

They quickly packed their belongings and left.

“And about an hour later the mountain was on fire. The flames had jumped over and crossed the Ridge line and you could actually see flames on our side of the mountain. And that was pretty scary,” Schaubman said.

She pointed out her home and the fire line on a map on her phone’s screen --  the two were separated by just a pinky finger’s width of space. 

Schaubman said the couple slept in their car on the first night they evacuated last Tuesday. Since then her husband’s co-worker has offered them a place to stay.

Winds on Sunday have been much lighter, but the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment extended its air quality advisory until Monday morning.