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`Ready to go’

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Flames move up a hillside toward a remote home in Bear Valley south of Valley Center, Calif., Monday, Oct. 27, 2003. The state's largest fire, in eastern San Diego County, caused at least nine deaths, including two people who died inside their car as they apparently tried to escape the flames, San Diego Sheriff Bill Kolender said. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
AP | AP

As residents in Southern California tried to come to grips with the state’s deadliest outbreak of fires in more than a decade yesterday, three crew members and an engine from the Basalt Fire Department were heading West to provide assistance.

Basalt firefighters Christine Lapadakis, Greg Bailey and Michael Haskett volunteered for the duty, and the three should arrive in San Bernardino, Calif., this evening.

The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department is on standby for sending personnel and equipment.

Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob said all of the fire departments in the region that can afford to send volunteers have been put on standby. Capt. Brian Denton, Capt. Lisa Ruggieri, firefighter Rick Balentine and firefighter Dave Walbert have all volunteered to respond for Aspen.

“Their gear is packed, their bags are packed, they’re ready to go,” Grob said.

The Carbondale Volunteer Fire Department is in the process of determining if it has enough personnel to respond, and officials with the Glenwood Springs Volunteer Fire Department said yesterday they currently do not have enough volunteers.

“It’s a terrible situation out there,” said Rob Goodwin, deputy chief of the Carbondale department. “If we can help them, and we’re able, we will.”

Basalt fire officials received a call Monday afternoon from the Grand Junction Air Center, which is acting as the dispatch center for regional fire departments, with a request to send a unit to California.

Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said his crew will be responding to the Old Fire, which has burned more than 450 homes in San Bernardino County.

Jennifer Lemke, office manager for the Basalt department, said the volunteers are transporting a Type 3 Engine, which specializes in protecting structures near the forest-urban interface.

“When they send out notices of what they need, they send it out by type,” Lemke said. “Different fires need different types of trucks.”

While both the Aspen and Basalt departments have assisted in fighting wildfires all over the West, neither have had to journey to California until now.

Offering firefighters and equipment in a time of crisis is part of a reciprocal relationship.

“When we’re in need we can always count on our fellow firefighters from other parts of the state and other parts of the country,” said Orrin Moon, Aspen’s deputy fire chief.

“We know they’ll be there if we need them, and I’m sure that’s how the California firefighters feel.”

In June 2002, over 700 firefighters from around the country responded to calls of assistance on the Coal Seam fire, which burned more than 12,000 acres near Glenwood Springs.

[Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com]


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