Wildfire forces evacuation of homes, school in Summit County
September 19, 2005
FARMER’S KORNER – Towering flames tore through a dry forest behind Summit High School on Monday afternoon, threatening up to 50 homes and forcing the evacuation of the high school and hundreds of area residents. The flames charred 12 to 15 acres and were 70 to 80 percent contained as of 8 p.m. Monday, said incident commander Gary Green, chief of the Red, White and Blue Fire Department. Nobody was injured in the blaze.Shortly after the fire was reported at about 2:40 p.m., black, billowing smoke engulfed the area near Swan Mountain Road. The flames ignited a patch of pine trees about one-quarter of a mile above the high school, and quickly crept over the ridge and burned within 200 yards of the school, said Rachel Flood, Lake Dillon Fire Authority public information officer. At its worst point, the fire threatened up to 50 homes, five of which were in imminent danger of destruction, Green said.Mike Majors, the high school’s head mechanic, lives in a district-owned home behind the school that was standing directly in the flames’ path. He barely had enough time to grab his dogs and some clothes before police officers told him he couldn’t re-enter his house.
Firefighters used fire rigs as barriers around Majors’ home while they doused the exterior of his house with water.”[The fire] was going right to the house,” Majors said as he stared at the smoldering trees surrounding his home. “It was just an act of God that the wind turned right at that point.”Firefighters directed all primary resources toward protecting structures and were able to save Majors’ home and all the endangered structures with the help of a Forest Service slurry bomber that flew in from Grand Junction.Ben Friedland, who lives in the Farmer’s Grove housing development, heard about the fire while he was at work and drove home as quickly as possible to assess the situation.”I came around the corner and saw plumes of smoke and fire,” Friedland said. “I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, this is huge.'”Friedland said being evacuated from his home and having to choose which belongings he wanted to save taught him an important lesson.
“I realized there are maybe three or four things, everything else is replaceable,” Friedland said. “To be honest, it was a bit of a liberating feeling.”Evacuees were allowed back into their homes around 7 p.m. Monday.The cause of the fire is still under investigation. A power outage was reported in the area about 20 minutes before the fire calls began coming in, Flood said.Fewer than 100 people were without power as of 5:30 p.m. Monday, and Xcel Energy spokeswoman Margarita Alarcón was not sure when it would be restored. Alarcón confirmed something in the area caused a big feeder to trip and reclose, but wasn’t sure where or when it occurred.Firefighters from Breckenridge’s Red, White and Blue were the first responders on the scene and lugged a hose up the ridge to tackle the flames. Additional crews from Lake Dillon Fire Authority, the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service quickly arrived to provide additional support, while sheriff’s deputies and Breckenridge police officers attempted to direct traffic. The county also activated its incident management team, which consists of dozens of local emergency responders who work together to handle large-scale emergencies.
The plumes of thick smoke caused a line of cars to pull off on the side of the Highway 9, while passers-by stopped to take pictures of the fast-moving flames.”In the 10 years I’ve been loving Summit County, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s terrible,” said former resident Carla Bortolamedi, who was in town for a wedding.About 885 students, most of whom were taken to their homes, were evacuated from the school minutes after the initial calls came in. Summit Middle School in Frisco served as a gathering area for students who didn’t have a ride home or lived in the evacuated areas, as well as for families who had been asked to leave their homes. Fire officials decided to cancel high school classes today after an evaluation showed students with breathing conditions or asthma may have some problems in the building, Green said.The southbound lane of Highway 9 from the Frisco Nordic Center to Swan Mountain Road was closed for several hours.Thirty firefighters remained on the scene overnight Monday to mop up hot spots and monitor the area. Another group of about 30 firefighters will return to the scene today for final cleanup, Green said.A countywide fire ban was rescinded on Aug. 12. The fire danger remains moderate, and caution should be taken with open fires, according to the U.S. Forest Service.