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Colorado Hams Assisting Wildfire Relief Efforts

09/08/2010

A fire that began on Monday, September 6 in Emerson Gulch located in Four Mile Canyon -- just northwest of Boulder, Colorado -- has members of Boulder County ARES® providing communications support to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office and the American Red Cross. According to a 911 call, the fire was started when a vehicle collided with a large propane tank.

“Amateur Radio operators are located at the Red Cross shelter set up at the University of Colorado Event Center and also at the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center,” ARRL Colorado Section Manager Jeff Ryan, K0RM, told the ARRL. “Amateur Radio operators are providing voice and ATV communications between forward fire units, the Incident Command post and the Emergency Operations Center, as well as voice and packet communications for the Red Cross.”

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office reported that the fire -- which has now grown to more than 7100 acres -- has damaged or destroyed more than 90 structures, most of them single family homes, with almost 3500 residents evacuated from the area. More than 200 firefighters from 35 local, regional and national agencies, as well as five helicopters and eight air tankers are involved with mitigation efforts, continuing to battle the blaze in the rugged and heavily forested terrain. Although cool overnight temperatures have helped to keep the fire from spreading, forecasts for gusty winds and temperatures in the 80s, coupled with the difficult terrain, will present firefighters with a challenge.

The 911 recording from Monday morning -- which lasts almost 26 minutes -- includes radio traffic from other incidents mixed in with the fire call. Requests for more assistance at the Fourmile Canyon fire keep coming in, with the dispatch operator at one point asking for “any units available.” Minutes later, another official calls in requesting mutual aid from area fire districts along with requests for specific fire engines.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said authorities are investigating whether the crash and propane explosion triggered the 7120 acre wildfire. “The initial report is that there was an automobile accident in Fourmile Canyon, where a car ran into a propane tank and caused it to rupture and started a fire. That’s the best information we have right now,” Pelle said.

Schools in the mountains west of Boulder have been closed since Tuesday and many area roads are also closed to all but emergency vehicles, Ryan said. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter toured the area on Tuesday and declared it a disaster area. Additional fire crews from Wyoming, New Mexico and other areas of Colorado will be joining the effort on Wednesday.  -- Thanks to Denver television station KMGH and RealAspen.com for some information



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