Residents allowed inside look at fire-fighting camp | AspenTimes.com

Residents allowed inside look at fire-fighting camp

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Glenwood Springs residents were invited to take a rare, behind-the-scenes look at local fire-fighting operations Sunday with tours of the Coal Seam fire camp.

Tours of the camp, a temporary refuge set up in West Glenwood’s Two Rivers Park, were organized over the weekend for volunteers, evacuees, media and other concerned residents as a “special thank-you” from grateful firefighters, organizers said. Over 100 community members took advantage of the sneak peek into the daily life of Glenwood Springs’ saviors – and they were able to do so far from the danger that still loomed over the city this weekend.

Sunday’s tours began with a question-and-answer session with Incident Commander Steve Hart, whose Type I management team has helped organize operations at many of the nation’s wildfire sites. Hart welcomed a tour group with the news that, by nightfall, firefighters hoped to have the Coal Seam blaze 60 percent contained.

The news was met with cheers, as well as additional questions about the fire’s move into the Flat Tops area above town. When one person asked how the weekend’s high winds helped the spread of the fire, Hart said Saturday’s nearly 60-mph gusts were actually welcomed by those building protective fire lines around the Coal Seam perimeter.

“We want it to be more windy – we want to test those lines and see if they’ll hold,” he said.

Much of a 3 p.m. camp tour had arrived from No Name, the tiny community north of Glenwood that had been evacuated early last week. The residents, now back in their homes and nervously watching the fire as it threatens to spread north, asked Hart about their small town’s future.

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“The fire has turned near No Name Canyon, and it will not go into No Name,” he assured the group.

After peppering Hart with questions about future fire-fighting efforts, tour groups were taken down the fire camp’s “Main Street” – a wide park sidewalk lined with modular buildings and trailers that house much of the camp’s planning equipment.

Dave Lipsom, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service, demonstrated a number of instruments that gauge wind speed and relative humidity. The instruments help pilots determine where best to drop flame retardant and help firefighters decide where to build their fire lines. In a neighboring trailer, a fire official demonstrated the radiometric mapping system that helped firefighters make accurate blueprints of the Coal Seam spread. Additional signs marked trailers for the camp’s first-aid center, radio room and additional services, taking up nearly a dozen modulars in all.

Tour groups also saw where visiting firefighters – including professional contract crews on loan from other wildfires – have spent their spare time in the past week. The camp currently houses around 700 firefighters and support crew; at the Coal Seam fire’s peak last weekend, the camp was suited to harbor 900. Those who remain at the camp sleep in a sea of tents located in the middle of the park, with an unobstructed view of the hills above the city, hills that still smoldered over the weekend.

After a brief tour of the camp’s mobile shower units, camp visits ended with a look at the firefighters’ eating habits. Sunday, Father’s Day, meant a special dinner for fire-fighting crews. Caterers from Bishop Services Mobile Catering showed off nearly 650 pounds of prime rib that would make up the evening meal. The crew of 25 caterers makes sure the personnel get plenty of food to keep up with a job as strenuous as firefighting.

Bishop’s Catering, like the rest of the camp, is fully mobile – a necessity in the fire-fighting business, said Danielle Mercer, an Arapahoe Forest ranger on loan to the Coal Seam information center.

“They could set this camp up in the middle of nowhere and it would function the same,” she said.