Our History: ‘90s marked by disasters, breakthroughs in valley
The Post Independent this year is celebrating local institutions’ anniversaries — including our own — with a special feature many Sundays through the year. The PI traces its roots back 127 years, but our publication volume number is 125, while the White River National Forest looks back on 125 years and Colorado Mountain College marks 50 years.
Today we offer the 11th installment of Post Independent history and the events it chronicled locally in the 1990s.
Just a week after opening up the latest infrastructure project in Glenwood Springs with the new Grand Avenue bridge, this month’s Post Independent history feature looks at the 1990s, which saw completion of the Interstate 70 corridor through Glenwood Canyon.
But the ‘90s also brought heartbreak and financial woe to the area, highlighted by the Mid-Continent mine fire in 1990 that forced the closure of a booming mine, as well as the tragedy in 1994 that killed 14 firefighters on Storm King Mountain.
MID-CONTINENTAL MINE FIRE
On Aug. 16, 1990, a fire started in the Mid-Continent mine near Redstone after some workers decided to use a blow-torch to cut off bolts, instead of using the hydraulic bolt cutters that were supplied to them minutes before by a shift leader. The fire couldn’t be put out due to oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as well as hints of methane from the mine.
The fire burned for more than 30 days, resulting in the sealing of the mine, which put a number of workers out of a job.
The then-Glenwood Post first reported on the mine incident on Aug. 21, 1990, saying that the mine closure would last for roughly a week, considering the gas in the air was still fueling the fire. While no one was injured in the mine fire, the closure of the Dutch Creek Mine was questioned after the Mine Safety and Hazard Administration ordered all 285 miners at the time out of the mine, aside from those needed to fight the fire.
The mine was sealed shortly after the fire started, thanks to MSHA’s orders.
COMPLETION OF I-70
After 11 years of construction and countless other years of planning, I-70 through Glenwood Canyon was finally finished on Oct. 14, 1992. On Oct. 9, 1992, the Glenwood Post printed a special section regarding the project that included a story on the “crown jewel of highways.”
“The completion of Interstate 70 through this spectacular canyon is true evidence of human ability to blend the marvels of engineering with the wonders of nature in a manner that will surely set the standard for future highway construction projects in sensitive terrain,” it said.
“What may well be the ‘crown jewel’ of the interstate highway system, this 12-mile wonder could not have taken shape without the intense process that was driven by steadfast desire on the part of all participants to achieve excellence.”
On Oct. 14, Post reporter John Stroud, who is on the PI staff today, wrote of the opening ceremony that “more than 1,000 transportation officials, contractors, politicians, members of the press and various other dignitaries gathered in the brightly lit Hanging Lake Tunnel this morning to mark a new era in the nation’s ability to move freely. …
“The final 12-mile line represents the completion of I-70 as it stretches from Baltimore to I-15 in western Utah. Designated speakers sat on a platform flanked by a blue backdrop, with red, white and blue ribbon draping the front of the stage. The ceremony commenced with the traditional cutting of the ribbon by Gov. Roy Romer.
“‘This is a very historic event for us,’ Romer said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. ‘It’s a monument that clearly indicates we can have it both ways.’”
SOUTH CANYON FIRE
In July 1994, tragedy struck, when 14 firefighters perished in the South Canyon Fire.
On July 2, 1994, a lightning strike sparked a fire near the base of Storm King, which sits 7 miles west of Glenwood Springs. Initially labeled small and well away from private property, the fire was assigned low priority and allowed to smolder for the first two days. By July 4, it had burned only 3 acres.
Nearby residents of Canyon Creek Estates, however, were growing increasingly concerned by the persistent blaze, prompting local authorities to take action.
The morning of July 5, firefighters began their approach from the west at the east end of Canyon Creek Estates, which made for a difficult march up the rugged terrain. Firefighters began constructing firelines to contain the blaze. The fight was joined that evening by smoke jumpers, working well on into the night of July 5.
The following day, 20 Hotshots from Prineville, Oregon, were rushed to aid in the battle. That afternoon, a dry cold front passed through the area, increasing the winds and fire activity. By 4 p.m., the fire had “spotted” beyond the fireline and below the firefighters’ location to the west and began to race toward them up the steep, densely vegetated terrain. Twelve firefighters were unable to outrun the blaze and perished. Two more helitack firefighters were also killed as they tried to flee to the northwest.
On the morning of July 7, 1994, the Glenwood Post’s front-page headline read “Deadly Inferno.” Then-Post correspondent Fred Malo wrote, “This time it’s here. And this time, there are dead. The rampaging wildfires that have ravaged the Western Slope the past few days finally hit home Wednesday. At press time, a fire that started near Canyon Creek over the weekend had flared up and was lapping at the northwest outskirts of Glenwood Springs. Worse, much worse, were late reports of many dead firefighters in the blaze. Early on, Garfield County Undersheriff Levy Burris confirmed some fatalities and some missing. He would not verify a number or the units they were from. Later, it was confirmed that 11 were dead and three were missing.”
CHANGE IN OWNERSHIP
The ‘90s was a big decade for media moves, start-ups and acquisitions.
Morris Communications acquired the Post from Stauffer in 1995. Earlier in the decade, an out-of-town owner came along and bought the Valley Journal, Rifle Telegram and Free Weekly, only to skip town and leave those publications hanging. Bill Dunaway (Aspen Times) moved in to save the Valley Journal, while the Free Weekly folded, and the Rifle Telegram merged with the startup West Valley Citizen to become the Citizen Telegram, which operated as a nonprofit organization for several years.
Roaring Fork Sunday was another start-up weekly publication at this time. Morris acquired it, as well. The Glenwood Independent started in 1998 by part of the group that owned the Aspen Times, before Swift came along and bought the Times, the Vail Daily and other mountain holdings.
Swift and Morris competed head-to-head for dominance in the mountain market for the latter part of the decade.