Hangars offered as hangouts for evacuees | PostIndependent.com

Hangars offered as hangouts for evacuees

Dennis WebbPost Independent Staff

Glenwood Springs aviators are making the area community an offer they hope never will be needed.Dick Weinberg, manager of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport, is organizing an effort by hangar owners to make the facilities available as shelters for evacuees in case of fires, floods, mud slides or other emergencies.Weinberg said he got the idea from an acquaintance in the Florida Panhandle who organized something similar to help people who are forced out of their homes by hurricanes.”I said, ‘Gee, we don’t have hurricanes, but we have mud, floods and everything like that.'”Weinberg said the 35,000 square feet of enclosed hangar space could be helpful to evacuees.”When you have that many people pushed out of their houses you run out of hotels and motels real fast,” he said.The available space includes 18 newer hangars. Some are heated and insulated.Weinberg has the support of some hangar owners and expects others also to agree to offer their space. Weinberg said pilots could park planes elsewhere at the airport to make the hangars available during emergencies.He said wildland firefighters and other emergency service workers also could stay in hangars.”We see them out at the airport sometimes in tents. My goodness, we can help them out, too,” he said.Glenwood Springs resident Gregg Rippy, a former state lawmaker, said he and other pilots are happy to help.”We think the pilot community is a strong part of the Glenwood Springs community. … That’s the great thing about Glenwood, people step up and help,” he said.Rippy said he hopes the hangars never are needed for an emergency. And until around a decade ago, few local residents thought there would be such a need, he said. Then came the Storm King Fire of 1994, which killed 14 firefighters and forced evacuations in west Glenwood. Eight years later, the Coal Seam Fire caused evacuations of thousands in the Glenwood area, on its way to claiming about 30 homes. Following that disaster, residents in the Mitchell Creek area of west Glenwood had to leave their homes numerous times out of fears of waters racing down mountains that had been made susceptible to flooding because of the fire.Rippy said he was evacuated 13 times that year. Fortunately, he had family he could stay with, but not everyone has a place to go, he said.”This is just another adjunct facility that could be made available,” he said. “Pray that we never need it.”Weinberg plans to discuss his plans with the American Red Cross and Valley View Hospital.Glenwood Springs resident Mike Alsdorf, branch disaster coordinator for the western Colorado chapter of the Red Cross, said he expects the hangars would be of some help. Whether they would qualify as full-fledged shelters under Red Cross guidelines depends on the availability of things such as rest rooms, showers and kitchen facilities, he said.At a minimum, the hangars might be able to serve as a short-term evacuation center where people can wait while a threat passes, Alsdorf said. He noted that the Glenwood Springs Mall parking lot served a similar function during evacuations of Mitchell Creek when flooding was a threat. The hangars, by comparison, at least would provide indoor shelter.Such spaces also can come in handy for storing aid items that often arrive quickly and “need a place to go” when a disaster occurs, Alsdorf said.The hangars also might be able to fill emergency crews’ needs for temporary office space.”What’s kind of nice about wide-open spaces like that, there’s a lot you can do with that,” he said.City manager Jeff Hecksel said Weinberg’s idea for the city facility appears to be a good one.”It would be dry, and they’re big,” he said of the hangars.But like Rippy, he hopes the hangars never are needed for emergencies.”Glenwood’s had its share of unfortunate incidents,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com

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