Carbondale, Colorado River fire crews assist on some of the big Western U.S. wildfires | PostIndependent.com
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Carbondale, Colorado River fire crews assist on some of the big Western U.S. wildfires

Chris DeMeyer, left, and Kent Oliver with the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection and Roaring Fork Fire Rescue districts, respectively, secure a hose to the back of a fire engine while working the Caldor Fire near South Lake Tahoe this week.
Photo courtesy Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District

A relatively tame wildfire season locally hasn’t exactly translated to downtime for Roaring Fork Valley and western Garfield County wildland firefighting specialists.

Currently, the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District has a three-person crew and fire engine assisting with the more-than 210,000-acre Caldor Fire, which prompted evacuations in South Lake Tahoe, California, on Tuesday night.

Included on the crew are Chris DeMeyer, engine boss Carl Oliver and his twin brother, Kent Oliver, who is a volunteer with the neighboring Basalt-based Roaring Fork Fire Rescue district.



Carbondale Fire Chief Rob Goodwin said Wednesday that the crew has been working structure protection along U.S. Route 50 on the northeastern flank of the fire, where the largest population center is located.

In addition, Carbondale Fire has had a rotating crew of two firefighters along with a tactical tender assisting with the massive Dixie Fire farther north and east of Chico, California.

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“We’ve been out on that fire now for almost two-and-a-half months, and we swap the crew out every two weeks,” Goodwin said of the Dixie Fire, which had grown to more than 859,000 acres as of Thursday morning. The fire, which started July 13, is now 55% contained.

Likewise, Rifle-based Colorado River Fire Rescue has two engines and six crew members assisting with the California fires, including one crew that was on its way to the Caldor Fire on Thursday, CRFR Chief Leif Sackett said. Additionally, they have a three-person crew and engine on the Greenwood Fire in Minnesota.

The Caldor Fire began Aug. 14 and has become one of the most urgent fire incidents in the West as it threatens the South Lake Tahoe resort area, forcing widespread evacuations. It was just 25% contained as of Thursday morning, according to the federal wildfire incident website Inciweb.

The cause of both California fires remains under investigation.

Crew members from the Carbondale and Rural and Roaring Fork Fire Rescue districts work the Caldor Fire outside of South Lake Tahoe, California this week.
Photo courtesy Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District

The Carbondale Fire District has a long history of providing assistance outside the area whenever the call comes from elsewhere in Colorado or across the West.

“We’ve done it now for about 25 years,” Goodwin said. “In addition to our summer wildfire watch patrols around the fire district, when that call comes from our brother and sister fire departments who need help, if the conditions here are OK, we will go help out.”

Roaring Fork Fire, covering the Basalt and Snowmass areas, and the Colorado River Fire Rescue district that covers the New Castle-to-Rifle area, have also sent firefighting crews far and wide whenever that call comes.

Colorado River Fire Rescue began its wildland firefighting division in 2018. Recently, it assisted with the Kirk Hill Fire in South Dakota and currently has crews in Minnesota and California, with another headed to Oregon, Chief Sackett said.

The Kirk Hill Fire started after a power line fell and sparked a brush fire, CRFR reported in an Aug. 19 Facebook post. “The fire was contained and controlled within a few days.” The Rifle-based fire district’s Engine 361 and its crew remained in the region assisting the Black Hills National Forest with wildfire mitigation efforts, and has since moved on to Minnesota.

“We have three engine captains and three assistants working year-round, and when they’re not deployed they’re helping with a lot of wildfire mitigation in the urban-wildland interface here in the district,” Sackett said.

Seasonal personnel also join the crews when they’re deployed across the country.

A Colorado River Fire Rescue truck on the nearly 171,000-acre Monument Fire in northern California.
CRFR courtesy photo

“The value of the program is that they get valuable experience that they can bring back to our department,” Sackett said. “If we get that big fire in our own backyard, it’s helpful to have people who know how to deal with that.”

Carbondale’s Goodwin agreed.

“If we’re staffed up for our needs here and have the ability to help on another fire, we will not turn down that request,” he said.

One of the larger fire districts in the region, the Carbondale and Rural District runs five stations and maintains a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week crew of five responders at the main Carbondale station, Goodwin said. The district also keeps an active roster of volunteer firefighters, some of whom move to part-time paid staff during the summer wildfire season, he said.

The inter-agency and interstate deployments provide valuable experience and on-the-job training, Goodwin said.

“They come back better firefighters and better trained for fires here,” he said.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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