BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – If not for the quick response of dozens of volunteer firefighters Saturday night, damage from the CalWood Fire could be much worse. The initial front of flames had already burned past the homes on Foothills Ranch Drive, destroying three of them, when Capt. Ryan Roberts and his team of three volunteers arrived to save the remaining houses.

(credit: CBS)

“From experience we’ve learned they don’t always burn on the first flame front. They burn later on from the embers around the house, and the decks and the landscaping smoldering and catching houses on fire hours, if not days, later,” Roberts with the Nederland Fire-Protection District.

Roberts was the only “professional” firefighter on shift Saturday when he heard the initial call for the Calwood Fire. He quickly built a team of a Nederland FPD volunteer and two more from the Timberline FPD in Gilpin County. He estimates as many as 100 volunteers responded to the Calwood Fire.

“We said if we can save this one it makes a difference,” Roberts said.

The team inspected the three homes on the street still standing and found smoke inside one of them.

“Literally, it was less than a handful of pine needles underneath a water spigot that had caught on fire and gotten underneath the dry vent and got into the wall, we felt the wall and the wall felt hot,” Roberts said. “We could see the structure was charged with smoke.”

After getting inside, they realized putting out the fire inside walls of the home wasn’t going to be easy.

(credit: CBS)

“We didn’t have the right tools, being a wildland engine, we were using axes to get through the drywall which was a little bit of a challenge. The house was filled with smoke, we didn’t have SCBA the breathing apparatus, so we had to go in the house, take a couple swings at the wall, go outside and take a breath.”

Then Roberts did something unusual, he found a piece of paper in the house with the homeowner’s phone number on it.

“He told me that my house did catch fire. They were able to get it under control and put it out,” said Steve Stewart.

(credit: CBS)

“On a whim I just said, ‘Hey let’s give this guy a message that his house is OK,’” Roberts said. “I knew it would mean something to him. I would want someone to do that for me. I know it’s very confusing and stressful from a homeowners side. If I could share a little bit of information and help him sleep better, so be it.”

Stewart says it’s the only information he’s been able to gather other than brief glimpses from Copter4 and through binoculars more than a mile away. A small gesture that has meant the world to the homeowner.

Roberts’ work wasn’t done. After being relieved in the morning he returned to Nederland where he was soon dispatched to help protect the town of Ward when the Lefthand Canyon Fire broke out Sunday afternoon.

“The teamwork, the cooperation was very good,” Roberts said about working with volunteers. “Everyone goes because we’ve all learned that we go help our neighbors because when it’s our turn we want them to come help us.”

Jeff Todd

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