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City gradually takes stock of damages, costs

Greg Masse

The financial toll of the Coal Seam Fire on Glenwood Springs was still far from being counted Monday, as smoke drifted menacingly in the hills above the city.

“That’s the thing about an emergency like this. Cost isn’t even a secondary consideration,” said Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson.

Preliminary cost estimates weren’t available Monday, nor were losses in revenue for city businesses. It will likely be days before such numbers can be assessed.

“At this point we’re just happy that the buildings are still standing,” city clerk Robin Clemons said.

“We don’t know yet moneywise,” city manager Mike Copp said. “Obviously the town being shut down is going to hurt us.”

It could take several days to determine infrastructure losses, such as burned power lines, poles and other city equipment that were located in the path of the fire, Copp said.

“The main thing we want to make sure is that we have enough help, and that we don’t lose anything else,” he said.

Copp also explained the details behind the dramatic retrieval of chlorine cylinders as the fire closed in on the city water plant Saturday.

While firefighters were backburning areas near the water plant, two city water department employees, Warren Hayes and Dennis Christie, braved the nearby flames and moved a cylinder full of 2 1/2 tons of liquid chlorine out of harm’s way.

“They went above and beyond the call of duty,” Copp said.

Glenwood Springs public works director Robin Millyard said although the water plant was saved, residents should conserve, or even halt, water use as much as possible so it will be available for firefighters if needed.

The suspected origin of the fire was in the area of the South Canyon Dump, but amazingly the dump itself came out in good shape.

“From what we know, it hasn’t been affected too badly,” Copp said.

The Caca Loco composting operation, however, sustained some damage.

“Some of his composting materials are on fire,” Copp said.

Glenwood Springs fire chief Mike Piper, who was also extremely busy on Monday, said cost estimates for his department were also unavailable.

“The first 24 hours of this thing is basically free,” Piper said. “After 24 hours, the federal firefighters came in.”

Once they sort everything out, the department will dole out any payments that need to be made, he said. There are no estimates for how much overtime pay would be needed because members of the fire department were still working.

“Obviously we’ll have some expenses and we don’t know what they’ll be yet,” he said.

Piper was in the process of cleaning up Station No. 2, the downtown station, and even though his troops were part of the firefighting effort, he said he was trying to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

“We still have mutual aid ambulance and structure protection,” he said. “We’re getting our stations back in order.”

Station No. 2 was used as a main staging area during the first 24 hours or so of the fire, but the main staging area was moved, allowing Piper and others to reclaim the station.

“We’re back in the fire station. We’re going to keep this thing as de-escalated as much as possible – as long as the winds cooperate,” Piper said around noon on Monday.

Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson said his job has been to act as the law enforcement branch manager. His main job had been assessing which roads should be opened and placing law enforcement personnel in areas where roads were closed.

“We’re trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in traffic areas,” he said.

Wilson allowed Midland Avenue to open between the 114 interchange of Interstate 70 and the Eighth Street Bridge. At noon he also said electricity was restored to most of West Glenwood.

“We’re trying to make sure everything is safe,” he said.

Wilson explained that on a normal summer day, he would have three to four officers on the street. But on Monday, there were around 50 law enforcement personnel on the street, including National Guardsmen and others.

“It very well might affect my budget, but there will be emergency reimbursement,” Wilson said.

Some of that reimbursement will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. For the eighth time this year, FEMA has authorized federal funds to help fight a wildfire in the state, the agency reported.

“FEMA director Joe M. Allbaugh approved the state’s latest request for federal fire management assistance … when it became clear that the blaze was a threat to hundreds of homes and businesses,” a FEMA news release said.


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