Some Evacuation Orders Lifted As Dry, Windy Conditions Continue To Frustrate Crews On Decker Fire

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Dan Boyce/CPR News
Residents pack a fire station to hear an update on the Decker Fire on October 14, 2019

Most residents evacuated due to the Decker Fire near Salida are now able to return home, though they remain on pre-evacuation status.

Fire Public Information Officer Rick Barton says increased humidity and reduced winds have helped fire crews to make progress on Tuesday. But the fight isn't over.

"That fire is still out there and it's still active, so we're working as hard as we can while we have the good weather," Barton said.

Hundreds packed into a volunteer fire station south of Salida on Monday night for an update from top officials on the fire, which covers more than 8,000 acres.

The fire, which has been burning since early September, grew dramatically over the weekend due to high winds and dry conditions, causing crews to temporarily pull back from the blaze. 

Salida District Forest Ranger Jim Pitts told the crowd that people living in the area should be ready for this fire to move right up to their backyards.

“We don’t know really where this fire is going to go, but we can tell you she’s pretty angry,” Pitts said. “The fuels are dry. It’s really receptive. This is really tough ground. It’s really pretty to look at, it’s fun to hike, but again, it’s not a place to fight fire.”

The area is currently under a red flag warning. Weather conditions are expected to remain dry, windy and relatively warm for at least the next few days, which will continue to make firefighting difficult.

Some residents at the Monday night briefing seemed frustrated in their attempts to find accurate information on the blaze, saying they had made decisions after hearing about road closures on Facebook that turned out not to be true. Officials told the crowd that while a couple of outbuildings had burned, no major structures been lost in the most recent flare up. Two buildings were lost earlier in the fire. There have been no fatalities or significant injuries.

Area resident Laura Kephart and her husband were evacuated Sunday and are now staying in a camper behind a friend’s house in Salida. They were previously under a pre-evacuation notice but thought conditions had been improving before the fire started to grow again last weekend.

“I know we have a lot of beetle kill and I know it's tough out there. So, I was starting to unpack, but I was unpacking into a pile so I could grab it quick again,” Kephart said.

More than 700 firefighters are working the blaze, including nine elite Type-1 teams. The fire is currently 30 percent contained and the Forest Service predicts it won’t be fully put out until well into December.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that two structures burned earlier in the fire.