By Jeff Todd
SILVERTHORNE, Colo. (CBS4) – On Tuesday the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District wildland team was supposed to hold a joint training with Summit Fire in the forest on Buffalo Mountain.
It was canceled last week as an 81-acre fire broke out, and the teams were forced to put everything they’ve practiced to work.
“I would say the smoke plume was about 100 feet plus in the air. Directly behind an apartment complex. It was violent, turbulent smoke,” said Capt. Chuck Oese with RWBFD. “From our vantage point we thought those apartments were in big trouble.”
Oese and two other firefighters responded to the top of the Wildernest area and were assigned to structure protection.
“I did not know there was a fire break back there, not until we got back behind those buildings and saw we had 200 feet of space did I know we at least had a chance. It wasn’t a guarantee, but it gave us a chance and that’s all we needed.”
For 12 hours, crews hiked the mountainside putting out spot fires, laying down hose lines, and organizing precision drops from helicopters.
“If you see that big spotter plane right over your head you might want to move a little bit out of the way,” Oese said. “We all had a little bit of red fire retardant on our uniforms after that.”
The fire burned within a few hundred feet of homes, but with a relentless air attack and the wide firebreak, no homes were destroyed or even damaged.
“When you see a plume like that close to homes, close to big apartment buildings. I did not think we’d get a hand up on that so soon,” Oese said.
“This fire break saved, I think it saved the whole Wildernest community. With the way those flames were going, I think if it caught onto those buildings it would have just dominoed all the way through this community,” said Ty Cecil who was evacuated from his home. “Everyone is thankful for them, everyone is thankful for this fire break.”
Cecil said the firebreak is something other communities in the Wildland Urban Interface can learn from. Oese says while lessons can be learned, the same outcome can’t be guaranteed.
“It can happen right in your backyard, and you need to be prepared to go, you need to have that bag packed. Those folks didn’t have a lot of time when they got the call to go, and it was good to get out when they did. This time it didn’t burn their structures down, but who knows next time.”
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Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he’s been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.