Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale quick to lend hand in fire, police efforts
Aspen Times Staff Writer
As the Coal Seam fire raged near Glenwood Springs on Sunday, 35 fire engines were called to the disaster scene to help battle the spreading flames.
Of those 35 engines, at least 10 were sent by Roaring Fork Valley fire-fighting agencies looking to lend a hand – or, in this case, a much-needed hose.
The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, which also dispatched an engine to southern Colorado last week to fight a wildfire there, received an “all-call” for assistance around 5 p.m. Saturday as Glenwood Springs petitioned surrounding cities for help. Aspen lent two engines to the fight.
“We have two engines working the fire in Glenwood and about plus or minus 20 people involved with everything from shuttling water to [helping with] communication,” a department official said Sunday.
Most valley fire departments were reluctant to discuss fire-fighting operations – personnel in both Aspen and Basalt were busy coordinating relief efforts. A Basalt fire department official said only that the town had sent approximately one-third of its force to Glenwood Springs over the weekend.
“As of yesterday [Saturday], we have sent five engines, one ambulance and approximately 20 personnel [out of 60 firefighters],” said Deputy Chief Frank Rudecoff.
Carbondale contributed the most personnel of any local fire agency – 22 firefighters in all – and three engines. Remaining firefighters played the waiting game Sunday afternoon, pagers close at hand, to see if they would be needed on the front lines.
“We do have crews in place waiting to replace our crews in the field,” said one firefighter who manned the CFD phones Sunday.
Firefighters in Snowmass Village sent an engine and an ambulance to the fire scene this weekend, Captain Jason Hutter said, while the rest of the Snowmass crew kept a 24-hour vigil in case their assistance was needed.
For some of these firefighters, the memory of 1994’s devastating Storm King blaze weighed heavily on their minds. That fire claimed the lives of 14 smoke jumpers – in much the same area devastated by the Coal Seam fire this weekend.
According to preliminary reports, the Coal Seam fire seemed to be even bigger than its predecessor. However, Hutter said he and his crew are concentrating on containing the current fire rather than comparing it to past disasters.
“I would say it’s in the back of your head that this has happened, but you try not to get complacent and just take care of the job at hand,” he said.
Local law enforcement agencies also contributed personnel over the weekend to relieve the overworked Glenwood Springs police. The Basalt Police Department sent Sgt. Chris Maniscalchi downvalley Saturday evening to help direct drivers through clogged intersections.
Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson said his department had dispatched six officers to the scene as of Sunday afternoon and expected to contribute more by this morning.
As of Sunday afternoon, Ryerson said he wasn’t sure what would be asked of the Aspen transfers.
“I imagine they’re watching evacuated areas,” Ryerson said of his officers.
Ryerson said he had not received many reports from the fire scene, but said officers returned to Aspen looking “a little startled, like deer in the headlights” by the “awesome sight” of the nearly 8,000-acre blaze.
The chief said the APD would evaluate the situation today to determine whether the six additional police officers that Glenwood Springs requested Sunday could be delivered.
“We’re going over our resources and making sure we are able to take care of business here and help out our neighbors,” Ryerson said.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office sent five deputies to Glenwood Saturday night, Deputy Ann Stephenson said. Of those five, two spent the entire night working with local agencies to keep residents calm during the disaster.
On Sunday, Pitkin County contributed two emergency dispatchers to help with organization at the Glenwood Springs command center. Though there was no request for deputies Sunday evening, the department planned to send two additional people downvalley this morning.
Stephenson herself worked Sunday night to schedule officers for both Aspen and Glenwood Springs duties over the next few days. She fielded only a few reports from deputies in the field.
“[They said] just that it’s part of the biggest fire they’ve ever seen before. It’s pretty overwhelming,” she said.
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Pitkin County public health officials are working toward opening a free, drive-through COVID -19 testing site in Aspen that will not require a doctor’s prescription.