In case of a Vail emergency… |

In case of a Vail emergency…

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/dtaylor@vaildaily.comHelicopter pilot Scott Standish, right, talks to local emergency personal and Vail town officials about the safety during a wildfire drill in West Vail Thursday

VAIL, Colorado – The whooshing of the helicopter blades rippled through the grass at as the helicopter lifted up over Donovan Park in Vail, Colorado, toting a huge bucket of water.

Operations director Ed Tracey and helicopter pilot Scott Standish, from HeliQwest, a charter helicopter company, walked almost 100 law enforcement, public officials and community members through the drill, showing them how the helicopters would get water and dump it over parts of the town or forest that were on fires.

“We’ll draw from ponds, lakes, slow-moving rivers, or even swimming pools if we have to,” Tracey said.

The drill was part of a day-long training exercise on Thursday held by the Vail fire and police departments to prepare for a wildfire emergency. Overall, 14 agencies, including the Colorado State Patrol, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, the hospital and the ski resort.

In the “scenario,” a small fire started near Cascade Village and began moving uphill toward pine-beetle infested trees. Later in the afternoon, another small fire started on the north side of the valley near Red Sandstone Creek, moving toward homes, energy lines and water storage tanks.

With Donovan Pavilion as a makeshift “command center,” crews fanned out in the area surrounding the “fire,” knocking on doors and notifying nearby residents. In a real fire , police and firefighters would ask residents to evacuate, but on Thursday they were handing out information on evacuation procedures.

Other drills included dragging fire hose up to the “fire,” moving other fire equipment, and evaluating surrounding buildings to see which were in the most danger, said Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller.

The exercise was the first full-scale fire drill that Vail has had since 2005.

“We’re getting better and better at this,” said Vail Town Manager Stan Zemler. “When we did this a few years ago, we didn’t have near this many people or this many agencies collaborating. It means we’ll be well-prepared for the event we hope will never happen.”

In a real evacuation, residents would be notified through a reverse 911 call, a text through, or via radio and TV announcements, Miller said.

Last year the Vail Valley area had a relatively quiet fire season, with only one small fire and a few wildfires further west of the county, said Miller.

Usually the dry season of July and August is when the area is at higher risk of wildfires. However, the wet spring has kept fire risks low so far.

“The rain has definitely delayed the wildfire season a bit,” Miller said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

The town of Vail’s full evacuation plan is available at

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