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Church's Park Fire near Fraser human caused, 30 percent contained -- and dangers remain

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Yesterday at this time, the Church's Park fire near Fraser was zero percent contained and covered approximately 450 acres.

As for today's update, it's more positive in one respect, less so in another: Containment is 30 percent, but the acreage is up to 530 -- and weather conditions today may cause the latter number to grow.

"There's a possibility of wind gusts causing concern today, with moderate growth potential," says John Simmons, a public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

Fortunately, he goes on, "we made really good progress yesterday. They partially bulldozed some trails to improve safety for firefighters and improve access to where things are burning. But they're still mainly working along the roads."

The reason for this strategy has to do with what Simmons refers to as "snags" -- part or all of a standing dead tree, of which there are plenty in the area. As spokesman John Bustos noted yesterday, the fire's location is at the "epicenter" of the beetle-kill epidemic, with dead lodgepole pines littering the area.

"The snags are a real concern because of how fast they're breaking and falling," he stresses. "So our folks aren't going into the deep, dead snags and working. They're working from the edges."

Fortunately, none of the 228 firefighters assigned to the blaze has been injured thus far. They're supplemented by four helicopters and three heavy tankers that flew sorties over the fire zone yesterday, and will likely do so again today. The forecast calls for a high of 67 with around upslope winds between four and ten miles per hour -- and if the breezes stay at that level, Simmons is confident the firefighters will be able to make significant progress. If the gusts speed up, however, the challenges will rise.

In the meantime, Simmons discourages lookie-loos.

"We had some cyclists coming in on a couple of trails out of Winter Park yesterday, and they ended up entering a closed area," he says. "We need to discourage that, because we don't want them to end up in a bad position, and we need to let the firefighters do what they need to do, get the job done and be safe."

The cause of the fire? Humans are thought to be responsible -- but if the Forest Service has a suspect or suspects, reps aren't saying right now.

For more information on the fire, visit the Inciweb site -- and page down to see photos of the fire.

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