The explosion that rocked the Smuggler Mountain area Saturday morning was apparently due to activities happening in the mine, a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office press release explained. No damage or injuries had been reported as of 12:11 p.m.
The investigation is an ongoing one, Aspen Fire Protection District Chief Rick Balentine, so while it was clear activities in the mine were behind the — “three explosions, from what I was told” — details such as explosives protocol were not readily available and likely won’t be until early next week.
“We’ll do a little further investigation on Monday,” Balentine said. “It definitely had something to do with something inside the mine.”
At approximately 9:03 this morning, Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center received numerous reports of several loud explosions in the area of the base of Smuggler Mountain.
“We were swamped with 911 calls, that’s all I can tell you,” a dispatcher said at about 9:15 a.m. At that time, there was no information available.
The Aspen Fire, Aspen Ambulance District, PCSO and Aspen Police Department were immediately dispatched to the area, where there had been open flames and smoke, according to witnesses.
“When emergency personnel arrived in the area a short time later, no flames could be found nor damage to any area buildings or structures. Emergency personnel searched the area and spoke to several witnesses who helped focus the source of the explosions to the Smuggler Mine property,” the release says.
Additionally, about a dozen curious spectators gathered at nearby Smuggler Park as responders began their investigation, and rumors circulated that a small aircraft had possibly crashed into the mountainside. At 10:47 a.m., the PCSO tweeted that was not the case in a clear effort to dispel the rumor.
“Per fire personnel, it was due to activity within the Smuggler Mine and did NOT involve an aircraft,” the tweet reads.
Among concerns — beyond the possible cause behind the bangs that literally shook households in the area — was for Jay Parker, longtime local, Aspen Fire volunteer retiree and former Smuggler Mine owner.
Balentine assured Saturday that Parker was quite alright.
“Everybody’s fine. Jay was up there,” he said.
Ultimately, it was the lack of injuries or damage that led to officials keeping Smuggler Trail open during initial surveys of the area, which “did not close during fire response and investigation,” Balentine said.
Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies were also on scene in a support role to the fire department Saturday morning. Patroller Anthony Todaro said that, according to video footage from a passerby, the mine was venting smoke and some flames.
“I don’t anticipate that there’s any danger to the public,” he said, adding that the investigation would not have stopped anyone from hiking the popular trail.
In total, Aspen Fire provided 18 personnel and seven apparatus, with Aspen Ambulance supplying two personnel and an ambulance. Two PCSO deputies were on scene, as well as one APD officer, according to the press release.
But for residents in the area, hours of not knowing what caused the explosion that literally shook many of them awake Saturday morning was the talk of the neighborhood.
“Cops aren’t sure if it’s a bomb, mining explosion or what,” Tamsin Pargiter, who was “right above the explosion when it happened” wrote in an email.
Tara Hannaford reported via social media that the blast “shook our whole building, to the degree of feeling like a small earthquake.”
Molly Coman likened the experience to the “Fourth of July cannon.”
Balentine emphasized Saturday afternoon that more concrete answers would not be available until the investigation was given the time required, likely until mid-next week.
“It was a little bit of a scare — it came in as a plane crash,” he said, referencing the initial rumors. “Luckily, nobody got hurt.”