Five fire engines from La Plata and Montezuma county fire agencies trekked through the mountains Friday to reach the site of the Marshall Fire in Boulder County that destroyed nearly 1,000 homes since it erupted Thursday.
Durango, along with Fort Lewis Mesa, Upper Pine River and Cortez fire protection districts, and Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Department, formed a task force that left Friday for Boulder County to assist in the response to the Marshall Fire. Upper Pine River Fire Protection District contributed two fire engines to the task force and the other agencies provided one engine each.
The task force is being led by Durango Fire Protection District Wildland Coordinator Scott Nielson.
Three firefighters typically crew the engines deployed Friday and are led by a task force leader, in this case Nielson, who rides in a chase vehicle, Durango Fire Chief Hal Doughty said. About 16 people were deployed from the La Plata and Montezuma agencies to help with the Marshall Fire and its aftermath.
Doughty said the Colorado Department of Transportation escorted the task force over Wolf Creek Pass because the fire engines that were deployed are not typically used in the winter. There were concerns that travel could prove rough if the pass was too icy or snowy after recent storms.
“At the end of the wildland season, we kind of mothball those trucks simply because we don’t typically use them during the winter and they are not set up for winter operations,” Doughty said.
The engines have exterior pumps and piping on them that are vulnerable to freezing. Doughty said winter elements introduce a new challenge to keep the trucks well maintained and ready for use.
Lisa Schwantes, state transportation spokesperson for the Southwest region, relayed information from Randy Tano, CDOT’s maintenance specialty crews supervisor.
Tano said the last wave of a strong winter storm was hitting Wolf Creek and La Veta passes Friday and it simply made sense to make sure the task force had assistance getting through east U.S. Highway 160.
CDOT ecorted the fire engines with one snowplow over Wolf Creek Pass and another plow at La Veta Pass.
The fire engines caravanned and stopped at commercial truck stations at the bases of the passes where the plows took the lead. Transportation crews had already been at work on U.S. Highway 160 early Friday morning clearing the road and performing typical avalanche mitigation. The plows were mainly there to clear new snow that was falling and blowing across the road.
Schwantes said Tano called CDOT’s efforts a “small gesture” of support in a tragic situation, and although firefighters responding to the Marshall Fire did the heavy lifting, CDOT played a small but meaningful role in lending assistance to emergency responders and the people affected by the fire.
Wildland Fire Management of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control was the agency to request assistance from the La Plata County and Montezuma County task force.
The Durango fire department is part of national and state resource allocation systems, so this sort of request is nothing new for the crews. But, Doughty said, wildland fire season is over and many wildland and fuels crews across the state have already been released from their duties for the season.
“In this case, they (Boulder County and state fire prevention) were looking for all the help that they could get,” Doughty said. “We are well beyond what the normal time frame for the wildland season is right now.”
The Marshall Fire has been marked as the most damaging fire in Colorado’s history. The cause of the vicious blaze has yet to be determined.
The Denver Post reported that the fire was fueled by 100 mph winds and quickly burned through 6,000 acres in the areas of Louisville and Superior in Boulder County.
Although the fire has extinguished, a notice on the website of Boulder County Office of Emergency Management asks people not to enter the evacuation area because the area “is still unsafe due to active hot spots, downed power lines and damaged trees at risk of falling.”
On Friday, President Joe Biden approved federal aid for Coloradans affected by the Marshall Fire.
Boulder County OEM provided these resources for people who want to volunteer in aiding people affected by the fire as well as resources for people seeking assistance:
- Volunteers can visit ColoradoResponds.org.
- Financial donations can be made through the Community Foundation/Colorado Gives and Red Cross.
- More donations can be directed through forms on Boulder OEM’s website.