Wildfire scorches Farmer’s Korner
September 20, 2005
FARMER’S KORNER ” Two hundred foot flames tore through a dry, pine beetle kill laden forest behind Summit High School Monday afternoon, threatening up to 50 homes and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of area residents and high school students.
The flames charred 12 to 15 acres and was 70 to 80 percent contained as of 8 p.m. Monday night, said incident commander Chief Gary Green with the Red, White and Blue Fire Department. Nobody was injured in the blaze.
Shortly after the fire was reported at about 2:40 p.m., black, billowing smoke engulfed the area near Swan Mountain Road. The flames ignited a patch of pine trees about one-quarter of a mile above the high school, and quickly crept over the ridge and burned within 200 yards of the high school, said Lake Dillon Fire Authority public information officer Rachel Flood.
At its worst point, the fire threatened up to 50 homes, five of which were in imminent danger of being destroyed, Green said.
Mike Majors, the high school’s head mechanic, lives in a district-owned home behind the school that was standing directly in the flames’ path.
He barely had enough time to grab his dogs and some clothes before police officers told him he couldn’t re-enter his house.
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Firefighters used fire rigs as barriers around Majors’ home, while they doused the exterior of his home with water.
“(The fire) was going right to the house,” Majors said as he stared at the smoldering trees surrounding his home. “It was just an act of God that the wind turned right at that point.”
Firefighters directed all primary resources toward protecting structures and were able to save Majors’ home and all the endangered structures with the help of a Forest Service slurry bomber that flew in from Grand Junction.
Ben Friedland, who lives in the Farmer’s Grove housing development, heard about the fire while he was at work and drove home as quickly as possible to assess the situation.
“I came around the corner and saw plumes of smoke and fire,” Friedland said. “I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, this is huge.'”
Friedland said being evacuated from his home and having to choose which belongings he wanted to save taught him an important lesson.
“I realized there are maybe three or four things, everything else is replaceable,” Friedland said. “To be honest, it was a bit of a liberating feeling.”
Evacuees were allowed back into their homes at about 7 p.m. Monday.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated. A power outage was reported in the area about 20 minutes before the fire calls began coming in, Flood said.
Less than 100 people were without power as of 5:30 p.m. Monday and Xcel Energy spokesperson Margarita Alarcon was not sure when it would be restored.
Alarcon confirmed something in the area caused a big feeder to trip and reclose, but wasn’t sure where or when it occurred.
Firefighters from Breckenridge’s Red, White and Blue Fire Department were the first responders on the scene and lugged a hose up the ridge to tackle the flames.
Additional crews from Lake Dillon Fire Authority, the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service quickly arrived to provide additional support, while sheriff’s deputies and Breckenridge police officers attempted to direct traffic. The county also activated its incident management team, which is comprised of dozens of local emergency responders that work together to handle large-scale emergencies.
The plumes of thick smoke caused a line of cars to pull off on the side of the Highway 9, while passers-by stopped to take pictures of the fast-moving flames.
“In the 10 years I’ve been loving Summit County, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s terrible,” said former resident Carla Bortolamedi, who was in town for a wedding.
About 885 students were evacuated from the school minutes after the initial calls came in, a majority of whom were taken to their homes.
Summit Middle School served as an gathering area for students who didn’t have a ride home or lived in the evacuated areas, as well as for families who had been asked to leave their homes. Fire officials decided to cancel high school classes today after an evaluation showed students with breathing conditions or asthma may have some problems in the building, Green said.
The southbound lane of Highway 9 from the Frisco Nordic Center to Swan Mountain Road was closed for several hours.
Thirty firefighters remained on the scene overnight Monday to mop up fire hot spots and monitor the area. Another group of about 30 firefighters will return to the scene today for final clean-up, Green said.
A countywide fire ban was repealed on Aug. 12. The fire danger remains moderate and caution should be taken with open fires, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or at firstname.lastname@example.org