A first hand look at Pine Creek fire devastation


POSTED: 11:02 PM Aug 31 2012

Park County officials estimate the Pine Creek fire has already destroyed at least five homes but that number is expected to rise.

Fire officials say most of them caught fire from burning embers.

"Usually it's not the fire on the ground or in the trees, it's burning embers that are blowing out in front of the fire and they will get in the leaves, leaf litter, limbs and things that are under a deck, around the edge of the foundation of the home," says Public Information Officer Warren Bielenberg.

That's exactly what officials believe happened to a cabin, just yards away from the Pine Creek Lodge, which was left virtually unscathed.

On the other side of the lodge is Mike Pontarelli's property. He refused to evacuate.

"I don't know if I'd stay again, I'll be honest about that, but when I went inside and they said you have to evacuate, I just looked around and said, this is ridiculous. What are you going to take and how could you even think about what's in there? I couldn't even think of everything so, I figured, as long as I could, I'd stay," explains Pontarelli.

And he did, fighting small brush fires in his yard with garden hoses.

"If I had left, maybe the same thing would have happened but all I know is that the garage, the house and the cabin were all okay," says Pontarelli.

But it's not over yet

Crews work on mopping up hot spots in Pontarelli's front yard to keep fire in the duff, or organic material just above the soil, from spreading.

"The duff gets deep and what it does is it, it'll crawl underneath so, when you find a hot spot you have to dig it out and try to find the edge and then soak it down and that will take care of it," explains Paradise Valley Firefighter Ken Bossert.

Fire officials say protecting structures and making sure the area is safe for residents to return remain their top priorities.

"There's still active fire in this area. They're doing mop up around many of the structures that the fire has passed through here," says Bielenberg.

Officials also tell us there are a number of fallen trees and trees in danger of falling.  They say crews are also in the process of replacing power lines and restoring electricity.