Wildfire above Boulder linked to propane accident

By Troy Hooper
Real AspenSeptember 7, 2010
BOULDER — One of the biggest and baddest wildfires in this county's history appears to have been ignited by a vehicle crashing into a propane tank, according to a 911 recording released Tuesday.

An unidentified caller can be heard reporting a fire at 7100 Fourmile Canyon to authorities at approximately 10 a.m. Monday and about eight minutes later a local firefighter arriving on scene can be heard urgently calling for backup.

A line of buses destroyed from the unforgiving wildfire at Gold Hill, above Boulder, on Tuesday.
Eric Peter Abramson
“I have a fully involved fire. I have trees torching. It's right at the base of Emerson Gulch. Get Gold Hill Fire (Protection District) out here now!” the fireman shouts.

Another official later tells 911 dispatch: “It was a collision with a propane tank that caused this fire.”

Huge black plumes of smoke blanketed Boulder on Monday as the fire raged uncontrollably in the foothills above the city. Three thousand and five hundred residents were forced to flee their homes as ash rained down on many of them like a swirling winter snowstorm. More than a few residents would later tell the TV cameras they saw the fire racing over the ridge toward their homes and that they escaped with their lives. Horses, dogs, cats and other pets were rescued and transported to safety. Other animals weren't so lucky and were left to fend for themselves and test their furry fates.

The 911 recording, which lasts 25 minutes and 54 seconds, includes radio traffic from other incidents mixed in with the fire call. Requests for more assistance at the Fourmile Canyon fire become a theme with the dispatch operator at one point asking for “any units available.” Minutes later, another official calls in requesting mutual aid from area fire districts along with requests for specific fire engines. Homes threatened by the fire are never mentioned.

At the end of the recording, someone asks: “Has anyone given a size up yet?"

"That's negative,” the dispatcher responds.

A view from South Boulder on Monday.
Troy Hooper
A few moments later, a commanding officer answers: "Size up at this time is that we have a recreational vehicle fully involved. Propane tanks ... (inaudible) small 20-pound propane tanks … immediately threatening a 1,000-gallon propane tank in a steep gulch with up-channel winds.”

One firefighter told a Denver TV station that winds were blowing as hard as 96 miles per hour.

By Tuesday evening, the fast and unpredictable fire had spread to more than 7,100 acres and was still burning out of control. One tally put the number of structures that burned to the ground at 92 but that number is only preliminary. Thick smoke hung over Boulder most of Tuesday with the Flatirons occasionally peeking through the haze when winds shifted. Denver too was clouded by smoke. The blaze was reportedly seen as far away as Wyoming.

Gov. Bill Ritter authorized $5 million in state funding to ease the costs of fighting the fire. He also directed his staff to seek federal money if needed, and he issued an emergency disaster declaration

Gov. Bill Ritter

“This is an extremely volatile and dangerous fire,” Ritter said. “It's very important for homeowners who have been evacuated to be patient as firefighters work to get the blaze under control. On behalf of the people of Colorado, I want to commend the emergency crews, including those who have lost their own homes, for doing all they can on the fire lines to protect life and property. While it is encouraging that the evacuations have been successful and there have been no serious physical injuries, there will be many struggles ahead as we begin to assess property damage and losses. My thoughts and prayers go out to all residents harmed by this devastating fire.”

The blaze glowing in the foothills above Boulder bears a striking resemblance to the Coal Seam fire above Glenwood Springs in 2002 when much of Colorado caught fire.

“The Fourmile fire is a harsh reminder about the importance of being prepared for wildland fire,” said Colorado State Forest Service Director Jeff Jahnke, “particularly for those who live, work and recreate in the wildland-urban interface."

Click play arrow to listen to the recording
or click here for audio file


comments: 1 Comment on "Wildfire above Boulder linked to propane accident "

allhazards – Sept. 08, 2010, at 4:48 a.m.

To get the most up-to-date information on the fire including radio scanner feeds and interactive maps, check out the resources posted in the Colorado Wildfire section at http://allhazards.blogspot.com/

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