Three Mile area evacuated, rumors and confusion rampant
NEW CASTLE – Joy Long watched Saturday evening as the flames that originated from the Coal Seam fire threatened her home on Three Mile Creek. Glenwood Springs congressman Gregg Rippy called family members fearing that his home on Mitchell Creek had burned to the ground.
Eight years after the devastating Storm King fire of 1994, which killed 14 firefighters, the nightmare was happening ahead.
By late Saturday evening, a reported 4,000 people were believed to be evacuated from their homes as the fire raged uncontrollably from the South Canyon area and made its way to Glenwood Springs, reportedly burning several structures and a number of residential homes.
The fire reportedly began around 1 p.m. and was started in a coal mine that has been burning for years.
“There are no injuries at this point, but the fire is 10 times the size (of Storm King) with 200-foot flames,” said Glenwood Springs police officer Tom McCorkle.
The fire was fanned by winds that were reported at more than 40 miles per hour.
Long said she had loaded her truck and was prepared to leave her Three Mile home at any moment.
“We’re just ready to split,” she said. “It’s about four miles away, but we’ve got our stuff in the truck, right now we’re just watching. There’s huge billows of white smoke.”
Congressman Gregg Rippy said at 10 p.m. from Glenwood Springs City Hall that he was not sure what the fate of his Mitchell Creek home was, but hoped to find out later in the evening.
“I’m fearful that my house is gone,” Rippy said. “But I have no idea. We’re not allowed up there right now.”
Glenwood Springs resident Grady Hazelton, who lives on Blake Avenue, said earlier in the afternoon that he could see flames from his home on Blake Avenue, between the Glenwood Springs Community Center and the new city Municipal Operations Center, both located on the Midland Avenue bypass.
“It’s extremely smoky,” Hazelton said. And the winds are blowing toward the Grand Avenue bridge. But it’s so smoky, you can’t really tell.”
The fire caused both the west- and eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 to be closed for hours, stranding many motorists.
“My wife went to the movies (at the Glenwood springs Mall) at 4:45 p.m. and she’s still stuck in West Glenwood,” said New Castle Mayor Bill Wentzel at 7:30 p.m.
New Castle residents were without power and electricity between 4 and 6:30 p.m., reportedly due to the fire, and swarmed the local City Market store to purchase candles, batteries and bags of ice. The store operated on a generator, but other local businesses and restaurants were forced to close early due to the power outage. According to a store employee, the City Market store in Glenwood Springs experienced an outage for only five minutes.
No power loss was felt in either Silt or Rifle.
By late Saturday evening, more than 2,000 acres had reportedly burned in Glenwood Springs.
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