What does "containment" of a wildfire mean? It doesn't mean control, and it doesn't mean the fire has been extinguished. It means that by some means or other a line has been created, through burning out fuels or digging down to bare dirt, over which the fire is less likely to be able to cross. Containment numbers are expressed as percentages and they go up and down, depending on the fire's behavior.
Here's a map from a government source (Inciweb) that shows the current containment status of the High Park Fire, west of Fort Collins, Colorado. I've marked the large numbers on it in order to refer to specific locations in this post.
The original of that map, with more resolution, can be found on Inciweb.
The fire is the area marked in a pinkish shading, with boundaries in both black and red. The black boundaries indicate containment lines that are currently holding; the red indicate parts of the fire not yet contained. As of today, the fire covers 87,284 acres (just over 136 square miles, 353 square kilometers, or 35,322 hectares) and is 65% contained. As of today, the expected date for full containment is July 30, 2012.
1 – For people who are wondering, this is where we live. Yes, it's not far from the fire, but it's off the main map. Off the main map is really good. On the scale at the bottom, each of those sections is a mile, so the overall scale is 3 miles (4.8 km). The long body of water between us and the fire is Horsetooth Reservoir. The area west of the reservoir and south of the fire (to communities also off the map) have been evacuated from time to time.
2 – The yellow line running east to west above the number 2 is both the Poudre River and Highway 14. The original firefighting goal was to keep the flames from crossing the Poudre. They did cross over the weekend and burned all the area above that yellow line in very short order.
3 – The fire did not burn into this area because it was burned a few weeks ago by the Hewlett Fire, so that little fuel remained. The Hewlett Fire is still active (it's burning), but it is fully contained, and now serving as a fire-stop against the High Park Fire. Unfortunately, it did not stop the fire before it reached our friends' house.
4 – A lot of the High Park Fire firefighting efforts are now focused on maintaining and reinforcing the containment lines and holding what's been saved in the interior of the fire. Those black-contained shapes are the "islands" of unburned land (and buildings) within the main body of the fire. There are some houses standing in there, along with community structures like the Stove Prairie School, which is tremendously important to the mountain community.
The fire is still uncontained on the west and southwest; those are areas full of beetle-kill wood and there are fewer structures. (Rather, "fuller than elsewhere," since beetle-kill is widespread now. That article link is from 2008. We are at the "three to five years" that it mentions for extensive beetle-kill damage.)
Another useful map is this one, which shows the extent of the fire as of a few days ago (it appears to be the latest of its type, dated June 23) but also contains indicators of where there are structures: homes, the school, the volunteer fire stations, and so on. At the time the map was made, the school, at the intersection of Old Flowers Road and Stove Prairie Road, was untouched by fire. Many of us have been poring over this map, trying to determine whether particular buildings are likely safe or likely not.
"Mop up" actions are going on now within the fire perimeter, while the burning continues. Efforts go on to protect still-standing structures within the outer boundaries; to snuff out flare-ups; to remove fuel from areas where the fire can still be stopped; to remove dangerous trees that will impede evacuees' return; to restore power and other utilities.
This is the 8th consecutive day of Red Flag Warning, with high temperatures, low humidity, and potential gusty winds. The growth potential is still extreme, and the terrain difficulty is still, of course, high. People need to be simultaneously ready to return to their homes and to leave again at a moment's notice. The count of homes lost so far is 257.
With fires now burning near Colorado Springs (Waldo Canyon Fire) and Boulder (Flagstaff Fire, no Inciweb page), resources are being shared, allocated, and reallocated as needed to respond to changing conditions.
From Inciweb today:
"As crews gain containment on the High Park fire, fire managers plan to share resources with other fires along the Front Range.
" 'We are going to help those folks out,' said Incident Commander Beth Lund, coordinating the most effective use of resources.
"The High Park fire will retain more than enough resources to meet challenges our fire may offer."