GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Teenagers playing with fireworks reportedly set off a blaze that rapidly advanced up a hillside above the Roaring Fork River and threatened several Glenwood Park homes Wednesday evening.
Quick work by firefighters from Glenwood Springs and two neighboring fire districts brought the blaze under control, and disaster was averted as the fire was contained to about two acres of dry, shrubby hillside.
There were no injuries or significant property loss. Firefighters remained on scene overnight to make sure the fire did not re-ignite.
The incident points out the extreme fire danger in the region as several wildfires continue to burn across the state and after several hundred homes have burned along the Front Range.
It will also likely serve as a harsh lesson for the youngsters who allegedly started the fire.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson, who happens to live in the Valley View Road neighborhood where the fire started, said police have already spoken to two 17-year-old boys, one of whom allegedly had the fireworks.
"They found out first-hand exactly how fast the dry grass catches on fire, and how hard it is to put a fire out in these dry conditions," said Wilson, who was home when the fire began around 6 p.m.
The fire started near the Roaring Fork River, just south of the Three Mile Creek drainage and the new Atkinson Ditch bike path.
With the tinderbox-dry conditions, the fire quickly spread into the nearby pinion and juniper and raced up the steep hillside toward several homes on the ridge.
"They had no chance," Wilson said of the boys' futile efforts to douse the fire. "It burned up the hill behind those homes in two minutes or less."
Wilson said the juveniles could face felony fourth degree arson charges.
Any use of fireworks is strictly prohibited under the current state fire ban and regional Stage 2 fire restrictions.
That includes even the kinds of fireworks that are normally legal to buy and use in Colorado, such as sparklers and fountain-type fireworks.
If someone actually starts a fire due to activities prohibited under the fire ban, the penalty moves into the felony category, Wilson said.
Mark Bauer had just arrived home from work when a friend who was at the house was screaming for him to come out on the back deck.
What he saw as he went outside was the very nightmare situation thousands of people are experiencing first-hand throughout Colorado, where dozens of wildfires are burning and hundreds of homes have already been destroyed.
As flames reached the ridge, though, firefighters were already on scene after numerous 911 calls came in from the neighborhood.
Bauer jumped in to help bring the fire hoses around to the back of his house, then turned his lawn sprinklers onto the back yard to at least attempt to create a barrier.
"The firefighters got here pretty fast, and they nailed it before it got any closer," Bauer said of the quick response.
His wife, Stacie Butow, was still at work when she got the call that her house was about to catch fire.
"I just thought, if our house burns down the whole subdivision is going to go," she said.
A couple of doors down, Greg and Kathy Lough were having the very conversation many people in Colorado are having right now about being ready just in case of a fire. All of sudden, flames were licking up the hill toward theirs and their neighbors homes.
"We've always worried a little bit about that hillside, and what we needed to have ready to go just in case," Greg Lough said. "We were just getting ready to leave the house when we smelled the smoke and looked outside to see the flames."
They spent the next two hours dousing their yard with water.
"It's nice to have this little bit of wilderness back here, but there's really no way to maintain any kind of fire break," Lough said.
Glenwood Springs acting Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said 20 firefighters from Glenwood Springs Fire Department, Burning Mountains Fire District and the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District responded to the fire.
"We also had a great amount of assistance from the Glenwood Springs Police Department," Tillotson said. "We were just doing whatever we had to do to keep it away from any structures. ... It was a pretty intense fire, and a real indication that the fuels are extremely dry."
Had it been as windy as it was earlier in the week, it could have been a very different story, Tillotson said.
"Right now, we just really want to work with all the agencies to get the message out that, if you have fireworks, put them away until a better time and don't use your charcoal grills," Tillotson added. "We're not fun haters, we just want people to be extra cautious."