Fire threatens South Glenwood |

Fire threatens South Glenwood

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A wildfire broke out just after 5:30 p.m. behind the Roaring Fork Marketplace Tuesday, burning about 20 acres of brush and one shed.

The fire, which was quickly dubbed the South Glenwood Fire, threatened at least three houses, but each was saved by aggressive structure protection measures.

There were no reports of injuries.

Authorities said they weren’t sure what sparked the fast-moving blaze, but Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson said the department received a report of a young man running from the scene around the time the blaze started.

“We did have an employee from Wal-Mart tell us about a kid going northbound at a high rate of speed, maybe running along the path,” Wilson said. “The time is close enough so it’s hard to ignore. . This certainly has the mark of a fire caused by a cigarette or fireworks or someone playing with matches.”

At press time, the fire was 0 percent contained, Glenwood Springs fire chief Mike Piper said.

According to Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, smoke was first noticed near the back loading dock of Gart Brothers Sporting Goods at the Roaring Fork Marketplace just after 5:30 p.m.

“At first we thought it might be a loading dock fire,” Vallario said.

But it turned out to be a wildfire.

The smoke prompted numerous 911 calls. Fire crews were dispatched to the scene at 5:39 p.m.

“It looked like a tiny little amount of smoke, then flames went up the wall. Right when the fire trucks got there, it raced that way,” said witness Shannon Stauffer as he pointed south.

The smoke, which was clearly visible from much of the city, attracted scores of curious onlookers to the Roaring Fork Marketplace parking lot. But soon, along with employees working at nearby stores and businesses, the gawkers were evacuated.

Once the fire climbed past the retaining wall behind Gart Brothers Sporting Goods, moderate winds quickly pushed the fire south along the old path of the Glenwood Ditch.

At least three houses located south of the Roaring Fork Marketplace on the side of the red dirt hill were in serious danger of burning, but fire crews from Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Burning Mountains Fire District were able to save all structures except a shed.

The Glenwood Springs Police Department and the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office secured the parking lot and handled area traffic control.

Vallario said one man refused to leave his house and was reportedly standing atop his roof with a garden hose in hand.

Flames reached 25 feet in the air at times as they destroyed tinder-dry pine trees on the west face of the hill.

Dark smoke billowed into the air and the loud crackling of torched trees could be heard as the fire reached its crescendo around 6:30 p.m.

Around 7 p.m., a U.S. Bureau of Land Management Interagency hand crew arrived to start containing the edges of the 20-acre blaze. Then, around 7 p.m., a BLM plane dropped fire retardant on hot spots and later a helicopter could be seen scouting the flames.

Once traffic to Pizza Hut was shut down, the employees there decided to cook up some grub for emergency workers on the scene.

“We cooked 14 pizzas,” Pizza Hut shift manager Chuck Gray said after he and pizza maker Tony Marques carried some pies across the parking lot.

Traffic running downvalley was diverted onto County Road 154 at Buffalo Valley during the height of the fire, resulting in slow going along that road. Upvalley traffic was allowed to remain on Highway 82.

By 7:30 p.m., the wind had decreased noticeably, giving firefighters a chance to begin to build a containment line.

“As long as they keep a good flank on it there, hopefully it will blow back on itself,” Wilson said.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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