Late-night fire at base of Carbondale’s Red Hill highlights mid-winter fire danger

A brush fire caused by a propane tank explosion at a homeless encampment near the base of Red Hill outside Carbondale on Tuesday night was brought under control by local firefighters in fairly short order.

However, concerns about the potential for a large-scale event prompted a multi-agency response, Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District spokeswoman Jenny Cutright said.

The local fire department was paged at 10:28 p.m. Tuesday to a report of a “loud explosion” near Colorado Highway 82 just north and west of town, Cutright said.

“When the crews arrived, they found a man at a homeless camp who had a fire get out of control,” she said.

Given the potential for the fire to spread through the brush up the steep hillside, Glenwood Springs Fire was called in for mutual aid, she said.

“We were able to catch the fire before it got very large, and extinguished it,” she said. One male who was at the camp was taken to Valley View Hospital with unspecified minor injuries, Cutright said.

Normally this time of year the ground would be mostly covered with snow, helping to keep such incidents in check. But with the persistent dry winter conditions on the heels of an extremely dry summer and fall, the fire danger remains a concern.

“Snowpack is only 68 percent of average now and definitely lower than where we were at this point last year,” Cutright said. “The drought doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.”

Looking ahead, a dry winter could mean another stressful year for area firefighting agencies.

“This summer could be similar conditions as 2018, based on the current snow pack chart,” she said. “Of course, we could get a rainy spring that changes everything, but as of right now, we are concerned.”

Carbondale Police and Garfield County Sheriff’s deputies were also on scene for the Tuesday night incident, making the emergency response highly visible to passing motorists and from parts of Carbondale.

Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson said flames were visible at one point, and firefighters were on scene well into the night with spotlights shining on the hillside at times.