BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — While firefighters battled the Marshall Fire, Louisville’s water department fought behind the scenes to keep water flowing to fire hydrants.
Fire damaged Superior’s water treatment plant, which lost power after a backup generator was incinerated.
Louisville has two water treatment plants, but lost power to the south plant, which is located in Superior.
When firefighters faced dwindling water pressure, an urgent call came from the Incident Command Center, saying, “We gotta try something.”
A team of Louisville’s public works and utilities employees answered the call and drove into the fire zone as communities evacuated. As the fire moved in on Louisville’s south water treatment plant, an employee made one of the first 911 calls.
“It was literally death by a thousand cuts. You were doing everything you can to stop the bleeding and try to get the system fully re-pressurized,” said utility director Kurt Kowar.
At this point in the afternoon, the north plant was the only working plant, and it was not providing firefighters with enough water.
“We had to turn on valves that connect our two systems and that in a way kept Superior alive for a period of time,” said Cory Peterson, deputy director of Louisville Public Works and Utilities. “Knowing how close we were [to] having Superior’s facility offline and us supplying them and then knowing that our supplies were starting to dwindle and just feeling helpless that the firefighters that potentially they would hook up to a hydrant and there wouldn’t be anything.”
That’s when Louisville’s team said they decided to bring untreated water into the system, anything to get more water to the front lines.
Six hours later, with help from Xcel Energy, the team had trailers of natural gas hooked up to the south plant to power generators and keep water flowing.
“There were a couple of homes across the street that were on fire and here we are next to this natural gas tank and there’s an active fire that’s a hundred feet away,” said Peterson.
The risk paid off, but firefighters still did not have enough water. Water mains from the homes that had burned were pouring onto the ground.
“So, the water was just geyser up out of these homes, so you’re losing thousands and thousands of gallons a minute and at that point, you’ve got over five hundred homes that have been completely destroyed. You’re losing more water than the water plant is able to put back into the system and keep the pressure up for these fires,” said Shane Mahan an operations technician.
Technicians followed firefighters house to house shutting off valves to keep pressure in the hydrants.
“We had to save the city. We had to give the firefighters the water because without water, you don’t have a way to fight,” said Mahan.
The city of Louisville told the FOX31 Problem Solvers, “Without the heroic efforts of these nine individuals, Louisville and Superior would have run out of water.”