BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A house on fire was the first structure Mountain View Fire Rescue crews tried to put out before the Marshall Fire ravaged nearly 1,100 homes.
Deputy Chief Sterling Folden, who was supposed to be on vacation that day, arrived on the scene after one fire crew – a truck with three people from his department – had already been dispatched to the area for a “downed line.” Investigators would later learn the line was a telecom line, not capable of sparking the blaze.
Initial response to the emergency call
The fire crew could not find a fire associated with the line, but eventually, they noticed a home that was burning down the road.
“I think the initial dispatch was appropriate, however, I don’t think, from what I understand, that the dispatch was completely accurate,” Mountain View Fire Protection District Chief Dave Beebe said.
The crews had trouble locating the fire, he said.
“It wasn’t exactly where they were dispatched to, so there was a little bit of time delay between getting in the area and actually finding the location of the fire.”
Beebe said it is not uncommon for a crew to have difficulty finding a fire after it has been reported.
“In this day and age of cell phones you know, something may be reported by somebody driving by in their car, and they see it, and they call it in, and when asked for a location, they may not know exactly where they’re at. It’s not like they’re calling from a landline that has an address on it,” he said.
“When I arrived, I couldn’t see past the hood of my car, to be honest with you,” Folden said. “Between the smoke, the dirt – with the wind blowing it so strongly – it was difficult to see past the hood of the car.”
Why crews couldn’t get help
Folden said he tried to re-position and call more units into the area.
“You can imagine the communication was very busy at the time,” Folden explained. He said the crew then saw fire on the hill behind them.
“It was traveling across Cherryvale Road at a very quick rate, enough that you couldn’t drive down the road anymore,” Folden said.
Beebe said many of the reliable mutual aid agencies that would normally assist were also tied up with other emergencies, including the nearby Middle Fork Fire.
“Everybody that we would normally call in that situation for automatic mutual aid was also very busy as well.
“There were times where you kind of sat up real quick and said, ‘Oh my gosh. This – I’ve never seen this. This is crazy. How are we going to deal with this … but you try to get back to what you’re supposed to be doing and making sure people are staying safe and getting out of their homes,” Beebe said.
Issues with resources in handling fire
Folden said he wasn’t sure whether the massive fire could’ve been stopped, even with more mutual aid on the scene much earlier.
Beebe said he would make other changes to help improve a future incident like this.
“We had trouble getting resources from outside the area,” he said. “And I know that that’s been a problem with a lot of fires throughout the state … I still think there’s some confusion within the state about who is actually ordering the resources as the incident escalates.”
He also said it would be important to look at how the public looks at open space and the fuels that might feed a fire.
“Maybe the criteria for a red flag day needs to be reevaluated,” he said.