Surreal fire scene grips Glenwood residents
People stood in awe Saturday night as massive flames devoured timber and shot huge billowing plumes of smoke from Red Mountain.
Around 8:10 p.m., a plane, possibly a slurry bomber, could be seen flying directly into the smoke at the Coal Seam Fire, disappearing into the cloud immediately.
From the corner of Seventh Street and Midland Avenue, small flames could be seen moving down a draw on the east face of Red Mountain. Smoke was thick, with columns of black smoke also visible at times.
As late as 9 p.m., the Community Center appeared to be untouched by flames, but it was clearly threatened as flames were burning just behind it.
The strong winds that exploded the fire on Saturday afternoon, began to calm down around 7 p.m.
At 5 p.m., authorities shut down Interstate 70 eastbound at Canyon Creek and the westbound lane was also shut down east of Glenwood Canyon.
Water truck drivers could be seen frantically filling their tanks from a fire hydrant, then heading up Red Mountain Drive to supply fire crews.
Police could also be heard evacuating residents who lived on the east flank of the mountain.
The bright orange glow on the thick smoke became more intense as the flames edged closer to the top of the mountain.
Then, in a flash, huge flames could be seen as the fire hit the ridge of Red Mountain above the city just before 8:30 p.m. The flames then slowly made their way down the mountain, treetops flaring up as they were hit by the fire.
At one point, the flames at the top of the mountain looked like a flamethrower was being shot into the sky.
That area between the Community Center and the (Glenwood Springs Municipal Operations Center) is done,” the water truck driver said. ” The Community Center is still pretty good.”
Fire crews came from all departments in the valley, as well as from Eagle County and from towns east of Glenwood Springs.
As far as the sheer size of the fire, Glenwood Springs Resident Steve Campbell recalled 1994’s Storm King Fire and said, “It’s certainly comparable.”
Around 8 p.m., emergency radio transmissions indicated that the flames were getting close to the city’s water treatment plant and fire officials were formulating a plan to defend it.
From Two Rivers Park, the raging inferno sounded like a jet engine.
At 9 p.m., prisoners from Garfield County Jail were being loaded onto four RFTA buses to be evacuated. A sheriff’s deputy declined to say where they were going.
As the Coal Seam fire spread, many local businesses were shut down early, but hundreds stood outside lining the streets to witness the catastrophe.
Wal-Mart was among the businesses, closing at 8 p.m.
“I just heard them say they wanted to get people home,” Wal-Mart employee Don Shrull said. “They locked up the guns and the money, and they said they might try to help the firefighters.”
Shrull is the father of Dale Shrull, who is the editor of the Citizen Telegram newspaper in Rifle. See related article on page 3. Don lives in New Castle, so he was stuck in Glenwood waiting for the interstate to re-open.
At 10 p.m. police reported that local bars were told to stop serving alcohol.
The Glenwood Springs Mall was the first major area to shut down. Guests staying in area hotels were given options of refunds.
“A lot are gone already, and we’re not going to rent to anyone tonight,” said Cedar Lodge manager Mary Kozil. “I told the local people to wait, it makes no sense in renting a room if we’re going to evacuate.”
Kozil offered refunds to guests staying at the hotel, but “ten wanted to hang on and see what was going to happen,” he said.
She said her four-member staff had been alerted to an evacuation of the hotel and the staff would assist the remaining guests.
“Everyone knows about our plans, and we’ll sound the fire alarm if we have to evaluate.”
When the fire jumped over the ridge, downtown businesses followed suit.
City Market and Safeway, the town’s two supermarkets, had closed to the public by 9 p.m. Most Restaurants followed suit.
Only three businesses surrounding the Glenwood Springs Post Independent office, Taco Bell, Turtles Liquor and the Sinclair gas station, were open past 9 p.m.
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