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Decker Fire could cause more evacuations Saturday

Posted at 10:10 PM, Oct 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-05 14:05:17-04

More than 24 hours before another critical weather day around the Decker Fire, public safety officials are warning Fremont County residents about the potential for more evacuations.

Fremont County Sheriff Allen Cooper put the communities of Howard, Pine Ridge, Wellsville and Swissvale on pre-evacuation status early Friday using cell phone and landline notifications.

Firefighters are expecting the return of red flag conditions to the fire area on Saturday, which could cause a spot fire burning east of Simmons Peak to threaten homes in Fremont County. The fire's incident meteorologist already declared a red flag warning for the fire from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The last report put the Decker Fire at nearly 6,000 acres with containment around 5 percent. Friday marked the 27th day it's been burning outside Salida.

Cooper said the explosive fire behavior displayed by the Decker Fire and other Colorado wildfires in years past was enough reason for him to make that call.

"Having seen fire behavior before, my concern is that these folks are in the gun sights right here," Cooper said. "I would rather prepare for something that doesn't occur than to respond too late."

He advised those with livestock in the areas to evacuate them as soon as possible. That way, they'd be able to focus on their own lives should the flames reach a specified management action point established by the Rocky Mountain Type 1 Incident Management Team in charge of the fire.

Transportation access isn't ideal, which could make an evacuation even harder.

"Very few of the roads have any paving at all. Some of them are four-wheel drive only, and so that's the area that I'm concerned with...," Cooper said. "If this has to evacuate, this will not be a fast evacuation."

The pre-evacuation notices came as nerves set in for the 300 people already evacuated from 130 structures on the Chaffee County side of the fire, after learning one home in Fremont County was already lost.

American Red Cross volunteers hosted an information meeting for the evacuees Friday morning before an evacuee-only meeting with the Chaffee County Sheriff later in the evening.

Averi Schaubman was one of the evacuees at the meeting inside United Methodist Church in Salida.

She told News 5 her family just moved to Salida ten days ago. Now, they hope their newly constructed house can be protected.

"It's scarier than heck. I've never been so anxious about anything," Schaubman said.

Brenda Berringer can see fixed-wing planes dropping slurry right around her home from Salida. She said the loss of a home changes perspective for those evacuated.

"That's scary. That's very scary, because you know that it's possible, that it can happen, that your house can be the next one," Berringer said.

Lisa Barton was one of the hundreds of people evacuated in the early morning hours on Wednesday.

She said she had an hour or so to grab her most important things and leave her home, as flames moved down Methodist Mountain.

"And I live in a 1,200-square foot home that now I have a four-foot by four-foot section of the things that are important to me in my friend's garage," Barton said.

Still, the Salida community is rallying around the evacuees. Restaurants like Amica's Pizza are donating meals to those that cannot return home.

Michael McGovern, the general manager and partner for the restaurant, said it's imperative his team provides a little comfort for the 300 evacuated people.

"Those are the people that let us have this business day in and day out and support us year round. And our doors are always open to whatever we can do to help," McGovern said.

Meanwhile, fire-watching has become the most popular activity in Salida, not just for passers by, but the evacuees themselves too.

Barton said it's all she can think about, and that she appreciates the work being done by the hundreds of firefighters who left their homes to protect hers and those of her neighbors.

As for Schaubman, perhaps the newest Salida resident and evacuee, she's using it as an opportunity to meet her neighbors.

"It's unnerving not knowing, but we just have to stay positive, and the way we deal with it is we give each other lots of hugs," Schaubman said.