Crews quickly contain small fire near Castle Creek bridge |

Crews quickly contain small fire near Castle Creek bridge

Blaze burned quarter-acre of land; may have caused power outages in town

Aspen Fire Protection District crews wrap up after responding to a small fire that broke out at the Castle Creek bridge west of Aspen on Sunday, June 13, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Crews promptly contained a small fire that broke out next to the Castle Creek bridge and Marolt Open Space just west of downtown Aspen on Sunday afternoon.

The fire broke out around 1 p.m. and incident commander Mike Tracey declared the blaze fully contained by 1:30 p.m., according to Jake Andersen, deputy chief of operations for the Aspen Fire Protection District.

Five fire apparatus and about 20 personnel responded to the blaze along with additional command vehicles. Aspen Police Department, the Aspen Ambulance District, and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails personnel also responded, Andersen said.

The fire was caused by an arc flash in a Holy Cross Energy switch gear, according to Holy Cross spokesperson Jenna Weatherred.

Arc flashes — a bright flash of light and heat — occur when an electrical current tries to jump from one conductor to another.

“We really don’t have a definitive (answer yet)” on what caused the flash, Weatherred said.

Such incidents within Holy Cross Energy’s service area are “more often than not” due to damage caused by wildlife despite extensive guards and protection surrounding the equipment, but Holy Cross crews could not find evidence of animal interference when they were on site Sunday afternoon, Weatherred said. (Oftentimes there will be remains of the animal on the scene.) Equipment failure also can cause arc flashes, she said, but reiterated that Holy Cross has yet to pinpoint the cause of this incident.

All told, the fire burned about a quarter acre of land; crews had to be particularly careful with any fire mitigation involving water due to the nearby electrical equipment, Andersen said. A power outage that occurred in Aspen around the same time that afternoon was related to the incident, Weatherred confirmed.

That outage disrupted dispatch operations and communications, making the rapid response from the Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center, Aspen Fire, the Aspen Police Department and the Aspen Ambulance District particularly noteworthy, Andersen said.

Aspen police officer Ritchie Zah filed an initial smoke report; dispatchers used a backup system and cellphones to coordinate the response, Andersen said.

“That power outage knocked out the communications center’s ability to dispatch normally, and they were able to work around the problem and still get people out there. … (It was) a hazardous situation that was contained very quickly, even though our normal processes weren’t working,” he said. “I’m very impressed.”

Aspen police redirected traffic just west of the S-curves onto Cemetery Lane from North 8th Street and Power Plant Road during the fire.

Most essential operations were back online at the dispatch center by late Sunday afternoon, Aspen Police Sergeant Chip Seamans said. Public safety agencies were still limited in the use of some services like the technology they use to check license plates, according to Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Levi Borst.

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