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Favorable weather aids aggressive fight on Decker Fire

Decker Fire 10-3.jpg
Posted at 6:20 PM, Oct 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-04 11:59:14-04

SALIDA — For the first time in a few days, weather is starting to help firefighters on the Decker Fire burning outside Salida.

High temperatures, low relative humidity and wind gusts around 45-50 miles per hour have fanned the flames this week, leading to a significant jump in size overnight into Wednesday.

The last known acreage is 5,348, based on an MMA flight earlier Thursday. Incident command said the size has increased by hundreds of acres since then, and that a structure suffered some sort of damage as a result. News5 confirmed the structure lost is in Fremont County.

Between favorable weather conditions and a lot more resources, the firefight became a lot more aggressive Thursday.

A Type 1 incident management team also took over command of the fire Thursday morning. The transition was expected to happen Friday, but most of the team was already in town shadowing the local Type 3 team in charge.

"The wind is not as bad as it was yesterday, and the humidities are up a bit...," said Mark Giacletto, the incident commander on the Type 1 team. "It's a subtle amount, but it's enough to kind of dampen it."

The change also brought a lot more manpower to battle the Decker Fire. A fire spokesman said the total number of personnel, as of 5:45 p.m. Thursday, is now at 454, an increase of more than 200 firefighters from Wednesday.

Water is scarce in the mountains, and a Salida staple is helping firefighters by providing it.

The Hutchinson Ranch has roots in Colorado that out-date the founding of Salida, according to Abby Hutchinson, a sixth-generation owner of the ranch featuring part of the Little Arkansas River. Hutchinson explained just how important water is to her livelihood.

"If it weren't here, it [the ranch] wouldn't be green. It would be desert, just like some of the fields you drive past," Hutchinson said.

It's used to irrigate the fields, in turn producing hay for their cattle and horses to feed through the winter. She called water the most important resource they have.

Despite the high need, Hutchinson agreed to let firefighters use the water for air attack.

"It's a no-brainer. I mean, obviously there's a higher and better use, and we want to keep our neighbors up on Methodist safe. And we would've never thought twice about it."

Helicopters with buckets came and went from the property all day long, dipping into a spot no more than a couple feet deep at maximum.

Air attack is not used to suppress flames on its own. Instead, it knocks the fire down, allowing firefighters on the ground the chance to engage the fire directly.

"This gives us an opportunity to get in areas closer to the fire, where we can do what we call direct attack, and that's getting right on the edge of the fire," Giacletto said.

That tactic also achieves containment quicker.

Because the infrared flight did not happen, the last known containment was 5 percent using data from Wednesday's flight. A fire spokesperson said containment is now expected to be lower than that, as the figure is relative to the fire's size.