Blaze acted like tornado, selectively destroying
Flames still lingered at 0263 Mitchell Creek Road Sunday afternoon, licking at the charred remains of the place someone called home just 24 hours earlier. An aluminum boat in the driveway was almost completely disintegrated from the intense heat, and a Chevy Blazer sat in the driveway, also decimated from the flames.The fire acted in many ways like a tornado, destroying some homes, but leaving another just next door or across the street completely unscathed. The tires on the trailer of the melted boat were completely intact and the license plate on the destroyed truck looked brand new.On Sunday morning, West Glenwood was for the most part well intact.The Community Center, the city’s new Municipal Operations Center, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus barn, the Glenwood Springs Mall and nearby car dealerships all were spared from the fire.”It was basically unscathed,” said RFTA maintenance manager Kenny Osier of the new bus barn. Drivers swept ash out of five buses Sunday morning and put them on the road between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.Osier said the barren construction site around the new RFTA and MOC buildings is probably what saved the facilities from damage. “But the fire was closer than anyone wanted,” he said.Firefighters were also able to save the city’s water treatment plant, considered to be in serious danger. Firefighters worked hard Saturday night to save the plant, located on the easternmost flank of Red Mountain in order to keep a good potable water supply to city residents and prevent another calamity.A cylinder at the plant is filled with 2 1/2 tons of liquid chlorine, used to treat the water. If the tank ruptured, it could have sent a deadly cloud down to the city, City Councilman Dave Merritt said. The tank was successfully removed from the area by firefighters around 2 a.m. Sunday by firefighters.A few hours after firefighters removed the cylinder, they set backfires to rid the nearby area of fuel, Glenwood Springs Mayor Don Vanderhoof said.The backfiring was completed Sunday afternoon, said Glenwood Springs fire battalion chief Darryl Queen. The part of the city hit hardest were residences along Mitchell Creek Road.”We bailed out about 6:15 p.m.,” said Sue Hakanson, who lives on Donegan Road at Mitchell Creek. “The fire was right at the end of our road.””We figured we had about 45 seconds,” said her husband, Don. “A wall of flame and a billow of smoke were rolling down Donegan. The temperature rose about 20 degrees while we were running. It was a fireball.”Yet the Hakanson’s home was spared the fire’s wrath.The Robin Hood Mobile Home Park, located at the intersection of Mitchell Creek Road and Highway 6 & 24, sustained the most damage in terms of the number of residences burned. About 12 homes were burned in the mobile home park.Tony Rivera lives at the Robin Hood. He was hanging out at home when he noticed the sky getting darker. Then he heard a police officer outside shouting, “Evacuate!””It was like turning on a furnace, or a million light bulbs,” Rivera said. “I grabbed five or six guitars. I didn’t have time for anything else. Nobody was loading anything. Everybody was just getting in their cars and leaving.”But like other areas, just across the road leading into the Robin Hood park, four homes were spared by the blaze. One may have been Rivera’s.Just above the mobile home park in a small parking area, three parked vehicles were destroyed. But a short distance up the street, horses peacefully grazed on a well-watered pasture. Further up the road, the damage followed a similar pattern. One home would be completely intact, while another would be burnt to the ground. Authorities estimated at least eight houses burned further up Mitchell Creek, two just beyond the fish hatchery and others farther up.The fish hatchery escaped the blaze, losing only a single shed.Among the casualties are homes owned by Ralph and Renae Besler, Gene Hubbard, Cran Rader, Stan Rachesky, Emmy Neil, Craig Amichaux, Jim and Janice George, Troy Gordon and Michel Field, Frances and Adam Padilla and Dennis Dunlap, according to Mitchell Creek neighbors Kenny Cline and Roxanne Christner.Ami’s Acres campground looked like a neutron bomb hit it. There were clothes on the clotheslines, camper trailers, cars and trucks, but no campers. Although the flames came close to the camp area, Ami’s avoided the wildfire for a second time – the first being the 1994 Storm King Mountain fire. “Obviously people are pretty upset that they can’t come here, and I can’t blame them,” said Kelly Rogers, assistant district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service, as he toured the charred neighborhood.Across the Colorado River, the house and barn at the city’s historic Cardnell Ranch burned, said City Councilwoman Jean Martensen.
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