Pedestrian snuffs fire that threatened Basalt building
A pedestrian walking home early Thursday morning after working a swing shift ended up saving one of the most historic buildings in Basalt when he extinguished a fire that started in a flower box and was starting to spread.
Greg “Tree Boy” Meyer worked his shift as a snowcat driver at Snowmass and rode the bus to Basalt at about 2:30 a.m. He was walking through downtown to get to his home when he noticed flickering lights coming from what appeared to be the Brick Pony restaurant on Midland Avenue.
At first, he said, he thought the restaurant had installed outdoor gas lights that hadn’t been turned off. When he got closer he realized it was actually flames coming from an outdoor flower box attached to Cafe Bernard, adjacent to the Brick Pony.
Meyer said the flames were probably 16 inches tall from one flower box. Another box adjacent to it was starting to smolder. Meyer said it appeared that the flames could have caught the awning or the wood siding of the building on fire.
He grabbed thick gloves and water bottles from his backpack, doused the flames, then pulled both flower boxes off the building and called the police. The officer called the fire department, which checked to make sure no flames had penetrated the wall. Meyer said Basalt was a virtual ghost town at that time of night. Only one vehicle drove down the town’s main street while he and the officer waited for the firefighters to arrive, so the fire might not have been reported until it was too late to save the building.
“That building would have gone up very fast,” said Bernard Moffroid, owner and chef at Cafe Bernard. He said he had no doubt that Meyer’s actions saved the historic structure, built in 1890 and known as the Bakery Building.
“He deserves a bottle of wine and dinner,” Moffroid said.
Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said the department had responded at least twice previously over the years to fires started from cigarette butts mashed into the dirt of a flower planter. That’s likely what happened in Thursday’s incident, he said.
Moffroid said he talked to the owner of the Brick Pony on Thursday and learned it closed at midnight. Some workers detected smoke outside the front of the building but couldn’t pinpoint the source. They put water in their planters, according to Moffroid, but didn’t realize the problem was in Bernard’s planters a few feet away.
Moffroid said people frequently smoke in the area in front of the bar and put their butts out where ever they please. He was surprised the cigarette in the planter took so long to ignite since winds were gusty Thursday morning.
Meyer, who owns and operates Aspen Arbor Care in summers, said the old, dry soil leftover from the previous season in planters can be extremely flammable, especially if dead vegetation remains. He advised people to wet down the soil in planters.
Everybody needs to be aware of the extremely high fire danger that exists throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and much of Colorado right now, he said.
“Give the firefighters a break,” he said.
They face enough fire danger in wild lands without people doing careless things like putting out cigarettes in planters, he said.
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Garfield County libraries will host James Edward Mills in its second event of the spring lecture series for a virtual conversation about changing the faces of the outdoors.