Firefighters from Snowmass Village and Carbondale responded Wednesday to a Front Range wildfire that caused Boy Scouts from Aspen and Basalt to evacuate their camp near Castle Rock.
The wind-driven Black Forest Fire exploded overnight Wednesday, burning 92 homes as it grew to more than 8,000 acres.
The Colorado Office of Emergency Management on Tuesday night sent out a statewide call for mutual aid to fight the wildfire, which was one of three burning in the state (see story on page 7).
John Mele, deputy fire chief and fire marshal at the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District, said three firefighters and a structure-protection vehicle known as a Type 3 fire engine left for the Front Range on Wednesday morning.
The vehicle can carry 600 gallons of water and is shorter than a typical fire truck, making for better maneuverability in narrow driveways, Mele said.
“It’s very effective for our type of terrain and the terrain they were sent to,” he said. “We’re glad we can go and help.
“If we ever need mutual aid assistance on this side of the divide, it’s important to have that type of relationship.”
The Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District also sent three firefighters and a Type 3 truck, said Fire Chief Ron Leach.
Meanwhile, at the Peaceful Valley Scout Ranch near the town of Elbert, the fire evacuation alarm sounded around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, said Michael Bair, scoutmaster for Troop 201 in Aspen.
“We saw billowing smoke from the fire [Tuesday] night,” he said from the Elbert County Fairgrounds, where campers were taken. “It was about 20 miles away to the south, and the winds were pretty dominantly going from west to east.”
Bair said that when he and other adults awoke Wednesday, they thought firefighters had managed to contain the fire. But they again noticed smoke later in the morning. This time it was blowing south to north, right over the Scout camp, as the fire crept within 15 miles, he said.
The 36 Scouts from Aspen and Basalt, aged 11 to 17, were part of 1,000 people at the camp, which was evacuated in 90 minutes.
Mark Murphy of Basalt’s Troop 242 said he felt camp staff maintained a sense of order and did a great job evacuating everyone. Scouts, who were to stay through Saturday, had to leave their tents and other equipment behind, he said.
“We don’t anticipate getting back to camp before Friday or Saturday, and even that is questionable,” Murphy said. “The boys are very calm, having a bit of an adventure.”
The local Scouts were spending Wednesday night at the fairgrounds “to see what tomorrow brings,” Murphy said.
For valley fire officials, the decision to send crews to another jurisdiction isn’t made easily.
Leach said it’s not driven by monetary expense but by the concept of mutual aid, and the knowledge that other fire departments will travel here should a large fire strike the valley.
Factors such as available personnel and the local fire danger, for instance, led the fire chiefs in Aspen and Glenwood Springs to decline Tuesday night’s mutual aid request, they said.
Leach said he also considered those circumstances before sending his crew.
“Last year we didn’t do that because there was such a high fire danger in June and July,” he said. “It’s a risky decision one way or another.”