Volcanic threat greeted with a hearty guffaw | VailDaily.com

Volcanic threat greeted with a hearty guffaw

Matt Zalaznick
Daily file photoA helcopter drops water on the Crater Fire near Dotsero as Jeff Dupras, assistant manager of Helitack, of Rifle, watches. The fire, which has burned 500 acres, and was moving northeast, was reported at about 2 pm Friday approximately 2 miles northeast of Dotsero. Authorities suspect it may be human-caused. See page A 5.

DOTSERO – A volcano – just down the road from Vail!The Dotsero crater, about a half-mile north of I-70, hasn’t erupted in 4,000 years, but because of the power of that ancient eruption, the local volcano is listed as a “moderate threat” in a report on volcanic activity by the U.S. Geological Survey. “I don’t lose sleep over it,” said Gerry Mayne, after a good laugh. Mayne’s company, Mayne Block in Dotsero, mines cinder block out of the quarter-mile wide crater that looks like a funnel in the ground. “The thought has crossed has my mind that if it ever goes off, I’ve got good life insurance,” said Mayne, who lives in Gypsum. “There’s no smoke, no steam, no nothing. If there was, I wouldn’t be up there.”The U.S. Geological Survey study lists volcano threats in five categories, from very high to very low; moderate, as would be expected, is right in the middle. “It’s not an indication of who’s going to erupt next, we’re using it as an indication of volcanoes we do not want to play catch-up with. It means we need to take them a little more seriously,” said John Ewert, a volcanologist who co-authored the study.

“The purpose was to identify volcanoes we need to be monitoring before they wake up,” Ewert added. Scientists sometimes can’t spot a volcano in early stages of eruption. In the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Oregon – an active area home to the infamous Mt. St. Helens – clouds are often blocking the tops of mountains that might be spitting out smoke. The study helps scientists identify which mountains monitoring more reliable than they naked eye, Ewert said. What makes Dotsero a moderate volcanic threat is that the eruption 4,000 years was “explosive,” Ewert said. “Not only could it impact people in the immediate vicinity, it also represents a hazard for aircraft,” he said. Mayne’s not expecting an eruption. “I don’t figure it’ll ever go off, but I might be worried in Gypsum,” Mayne said. “If you look, that’s where all the deposits ended up, all toward Gypsum.” Roger Brown, a photographer and filmmaker who has been in the valley for 40 years and now lives outside of Gypsum, said if the crater was hot, it would steam during rainstorms. “If it was steaming a little bit, that would be one thing, but it isn’t. Even when it blew, it didn’t send lava flows very far, only to the edge of the Colorado river,” Brown said. “Moderate’s a real hedge word for nothing,” he said. “That’s activity so dead.”

Pop-up problemDoes this all mean Colorado isn’t just ski country? “When people think of Colorado, they don’t think of active volcanoes – most people are surprised to learn there’s a vent in Colorado young enough to be considered geologically active,” Ewert said. “But all through the mountain west you have little volcanoes that pop up. Volcanic eruptions can appear in some unlikely places.”Ultimately, the Dotsero volcano is not likely to erupt any time soon.”The probability of it happening in a human lifetime is pretty low,” said Jim Quick, the geological survey’s coordination for volcanic hazards. “But at some time in future? That’s harder to judge, especially in the absence of monitoring.”

“In terms of your and children’s lifetimes, I wouldn’t worry too much,” Quick said.Brown suggested exaggerating the volcano threat could help the valley hang on to its rural character. “Play it up for all it’s worth,” he said. “It might slow down development.”Glenwood Springs correspondent Donna Gray contributed to this report.Vail Colorado

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