A legacy of the Lake Christine Fire — preparations by Basalt, Carbondale and Aspen departments
The Aspen Times
Fire departments in the Roaring Fork Valley will be better equipped to tackle wildfires this summer due to donations that were made last year.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy donated $121,550 to first responders in August to thank them for protecting the valley during the Lake Christine Fire. The nonprofit conservation organization strayed from its usual practice of raising funds for its programs and channeled the funds to the fire and police departments.
Aspen Fire Department used its $18,250 grant to help purchase a custom-built and equipped Polaris all-terrain, quick-response fire vehicle, according to Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine. The vehicle is fitted with tracks during the winter and was used for the first time last week to respond to Pine Creek Cookhouse for a smell of propane gas. The restaurant is located past the point where snowplowing stops in Castle Creek Valley, so the vehicle was used for access.
A propane leak in the April 2003 led to an explosion and fire that destroyed the old structure.
In the summer, the vehicle will be fitted with four tires. It will be used to gain access to rugged backcountry areas for such reports as unattended campfires and lightning strikes, Balentine said.
The new vehicle is a great addition for the department to respond quickly and get at a wildfire while it is still small, Balentine said. It can hold up to six personnel and their gear.
Retired Aspen Volunteer Fire Fighter George Newell, who served with the department from 1974 to 1984, made a contribution to his old department about the same time as the conservancy issued the grant. Newell’s funds also helped with purchase of the Polaris.
“We also received another unsolicited donation from the Brenden-Mann Foundation to help equip the vehicle and to purchase a very high-tech thermal imaging camera for the unit,” Balentine said.
Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue, which united the Basalt and Snowmass Village fire departments, received $55,000 from the Roaring Fork Conservancy. That donation was used to help equip a special trailer with gear needed for wildfire fighting, said Chief Scott Thompson.
The trailer is filled with fire hose and progressive packs, which help firefighters lay out hose quickly, often in areas inaccessible to fire trucks.
Thompson said the fire department used more than 3,000 feet of hose while battling the Lake Christine Fire in Basalt and El Jebel, July 3 and 4. Having a cache of gear in a trailer will allow the department to respond quickly to wildfires wherever they are located in the valley, he said.
The department also purchased additional Nomex fire retardant clothing.
To commemorate the Lake Christine firefighting effort, the department also bought some special Patagonia jackets for the staff and volunteers.
Thompson estimated that between $30,000 and $40,000 in donations were made to the department in addition to the Roaring Fork Conservancy grant.
Carbondale Fire Chief Rob Goodwin said the department’s $18,250 gift from the conservancy was used to purchase additional equipment for firefighters who would make the initial attack on a wildfire.
That includes fire shelters, which cost around $450 apiece, and clothing. Anything that helps with first responder preparation benefits the community, he said.
“One of the goals has always been keep small wildfires small,” Goodwin said.
He said the department appreciated being included in the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s contribution. The nonprofit collected donations from members and other guests who attended its annual fundraiser, called the River Rendezvous. About $100,000 was raised at the event and more than $21,000 in the days following.
The Basalt Police Department received about $31,000 from the Roaring Fork Conservancy. Police Chief Greg Knott said a special fund was established and overseen by a board. Law enforcement agencies that responded to the Lake Christine Fire and their employees will be eligible to seek grants ranging from equipment purchases to help for a worker facing a hardship.
The first grant request is by his department for night vision equipment that can be used to monitor areas in the Lake Christine Fire burn scar that may be susceptible to flooding and debris flows during rain storms. An additional grant request is for equipment for a training facility in Snowmass Village that is used by multiple law enforcement agencies.
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According to the New Castle Police Department’s official Facebook page, a “string of arson-related fires” have occurred in the town recently. Law enforcement believes “the fires to all be related.”