Wildfire erupts on the edge of Basalt
September 6, 2008
BASALT ” A wildfire erupted on the outskirts of Basalt on Friday when an axle on a camper trailer broke, causing frames to hit the pavement and kick up sparks that ignited dry grass, according to authorities.
Firefighters scrambled to prevent the fire from jumping a dirt road and burning into the thick brush of lower Basalt Mountain. No structures burned and no one was injured.
“If it would have jumped Cedar Drive, we would have had big problems,” said Basalt Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Peetz.
The fire only burned about three acres, but it was in extremely steep terrain so it was difficult to battle, Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said. The fire wasn’t fully contained as of 6 p.m. because a fire line hadn’t been established around the entire perimeter, he said. However, the fire didn’t pose a threat to homes or other structures, according to Thompson. The fire was one mile up Frying Pan Road on the north side of the valley. The camper trailer was traveling down the valley, toward Basalt when its axle snapped.
The fire broke out at about 2:20 p.m.. and was fanned by winds reported by the National Weather Service as 23 mph and gusting to 29 mph. “It was running up the hill pretty fast,” said Peetz, who was first on the scene. Flames jumped 40 feet in the air as pinon and juniper trees were torched, he said.
Thompson said the incident had the potential for an unfortunate disaster because of poor ingress and egress. Cedar Drive leaves Basalt and provides access to roughly a dozen homes on the north side of the Fryingpan Valley via a narrow dirt road. The homeowners on Cedar Drive outside the Basalt town limit were notified via Eagle County reverse 911 telephone system to evacuate. But when they drove down the narrow road they weren’t able to get around the fire engines holding the line at Cedar Drive.
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Thompson said he has complained to local governments for years about the potentially dangerous situation on Cedar Drive. There is only one way in and out of the area.
Basalt firefighters arrived first on the scene and attacked the fire from Cedar Drive and Frying Pan Road. Basalt Fire Department Capt. Bob Guion and a team of about six firefighters and two engines attacked the fire from Cedar Drive to prevent it from jumping the road.
Other firefighters hiked from Frying Pan Road up the steep terrain with shovels, picks and water hoses to pounce on hot spots. The fire burned mostly in dead grass and dry sage brush but occasionally ignited a pinon or juniper tree, belching black smoke.
Guion said firefighters were using a strategy called flank and pinch, with the idea of reducing the width of the fire by attacking from its flanks.
Firefighters from Carbondale and the Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service interagency fire crew joined the effort. The federal fire fighters were nearby in the midvalley clearing brush in a fire mitigation project.
The federal interagency team also sent a helicopter to the scene to act as the “eyes” for the firefighting effort, Thompson said. The helicopter wasn’t able to drop buckets of water because so many power lines are in the vicinity.
Peetz said 45 firefighters and 12 engines battled the blaze. They were assisted by the Basalt Police Department and Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
The firefighting effort forced the closure of Frying Pan Road for about two hours. Residents of Cedar Drive were allowed to drive in to their homes at about 6 p.m.
A ban on fires on private property in Eagle County was lifted Friday morning, but even if the ban was in place it wouldn’t have prevented this incident.