Missouri Heights ablaze | AspenTimes.com

Missouri Heights ablaze

A slurry bomber drops a fire retardant to create a fire line while battling the *** fire at the Spring Park Meadows subdivision Wednesday afternoon July 31, 2002. Paul Conrad photo.

Firefighters from Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties battled a wildfire Wednesday that destroyed four homes after spreading rapidly across Missouri Heights.

The Panorama fire started around 1 p.m. at a construction site in the Panorama Estates subdivision, according to Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri. Within an hour it had spread across close to 1,000 acres, and by the time fire crews were called off for the night it had consumed more than 1,700 acres.

Law enforcement officers went door-to-door throughout the afternoon advising people to leave their homes in Panorama Estates, Spring Park Reservoir, Park Meadow Estates, Aspen Mountain View subdivision and Aspen Mesa subdivision. More than 300 people remained under the evacuation order through the night.

As of last night the fire was zero-percent contained.

There were no fatalities or major injuries attributed to the fire, although one firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation and heat exposure.

The fire was only about 10 to 15 acres when crews from the Carbondale Fire Protection District responded shortly after 1 p.m. By 2 p.m. the fire, driven by light-to-moderate winds and fed with extremely dry fuels – scrub oak, juniper and sagebrush – was moving rapidly toward heavily populated areas to the north and east.

Evacuations are voluntary, according to Dalessandri. People cannot be forced to leave their home, but once they do leave it is legal to bar them from returning.

Road blocks were set up at key intersections in the vast Missouri Heights area to keep people away from the fire zone. The area contains a series of plateaus and valleys that stretch from the northwestern edge of Basalt Mountain to the Spring Valley area outside Glenwood Springs.

At the intersection of Cattle Creek Road and Upper Cattle Creek Road, a Garfield County Sheriff’s deputy turned away people wanting to get to their homes and possessions.

A fire information center was set up at the Eagle County Community Center in El Jebel, and the American Red Cross arranged for an overnight shelter at Basalt High School.

Ron Leach, Carbondale fire chief and one of three incident commanders, said crews were engaged in an “intense” battle throughout the day. More than 100 homes were directly threatened by flames.

“The firefighters were putting themselves between the fire and the houses,” Leach said.

At least two of the four houses that burned were in the Spring Park Reservoir area. A fifth house was partially burned, and two outbuildings were also destroyed.

Ground crews spent most of the day saving people’s homes from destruction, and Leach said they began cutting fire lines late in the day with bulldozers.

Slurry bombers diverted from another fire spent several hours dropping loads of chemical fire retardant on the flames. “The slurry drops put a serious stop to this fire,” Leach said.

The fire has been upgraded to a Type 2 incident, which means federal and state officials will take over command in the next day or two. Two hand crews of 20 firefighters are expected to arrive this afternoon.

The fire was sparked by a construction worker who was using a saw to cut steel bars, known as “rebar,” at a site in the Panorama Estates subdivision, according to Sheriff Dalessandri. Panorama Estates is about four miles up the hill from the Catherine Store light on Highway 82.

The sheriff declined to release the name of the construction company allegedly responsible for starting the fire. An investigation is under way to determine if the company violated state and local fire bans against work that generates sparks and flames in fire-prone areas.

Leach said it will take a considerable amount of time to bring the fire under control. He and others on the incident command team were working through the night last night to come up with a plan for dealing with the situation today, which is forecast to be windy.

“With the erratic winds across Missouri Heights, this fire could go anywhere – north, south, east or west,” Leach said.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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