by William Alder Lakish
The second half of March proved to be a busy one for the Crestone and Baca Fire Departments, Search & Rescue and EMTs.
Recent dry conditions produced two very fast-moving, wind-driven grass fires in our area within a 48-hour period. The cause of both fires is undetermined. It may have been a reckless cigarette butt tossed out of a car window, or children playing with matches, or even perhaps a glass bottle tossed beside the road that happened to catch the sunlight just right to create a “magnifying glass effect” and created the spark to start a wildfire.
The first fire ignited on March 13 in a farm field between Moffat and Saguache. All the Saguache County fire departments responded to the blaze including NSCFPD, Center and Baca. Multiple trucks and volunteer firefighters worked for several hours to contain the flames as they sped toward the distant pine and juniper forests at the speed of the wind.
The Baca tender sprayed the sides of Cty. Rd. X attempting to prevent the fire from jumping the road as it flared west creating a huge smoke plume clearly visible from Crestone. Despite the valiant efforts, the 17- to 25-mph winds still managed to carry windblown sparks across the highway fireline to ignite a secondary fire several hundred feet on the northeast side of Cty. Rd. X.
Fortunately, numerous trucks and firefighters were on hand to extinguish the head of the blaze
before it was able to burn more than ten or fifteen acres. With no good location for a road-based fire-line on the windward side within several miles, crews were required to fight this fire from the down-wind side, as flames and smoke raced straight into the midst of the crews.
Combined local departments were able to contain the blazes on both sides of the road before either were able to expand into a major fire of the type that could have consumed tens of thousands of acres and reached the Sangre de Cristo foothills. The total burned area was estimated at approximately 200 acres, which is a very small fire since it was rapidly contained.
Less than 48 hours later, Baca/Crestone fire radios again broadcast a grassland fire call, this time much closer to home. The second fire within two days was also driven by dry conditions and high winds. It ignited along the edge of Cty. Rd. T, just east of the Casita Park neighborhood of the Baca Grande subdivision. This blaze was inside the old dry lake bottom and was surrounded on three sides by roads and barren sand. The natural landscape was the greatest ally as Baca Grande and Crestone firefighters quickly arrived at the incident with two tenders, Baca CAFS 1 truck, Baca Brush 1, several personally-operated vehicles and an ambulance. Baca/Crestone firefighter Chris Botz was first to arrive on scene and became Incident Commander.
Although the winds drove the flames more than 15 feet high within a matter of seconds, Baca and Crestone crews were able to extinguish the multiple blazes before they even reached the edges of the old lake. Fewer than five acres were consumed. Several volunteer firefighters were checked for smoke inhalation and heat exposure by Baca EMTs while other firefighters continued to cool hot spots using CAFS 1, Brush 1 and Baca Tender.
A slower response time by local crews or additional velocity in wind speed might have driven the flames out of the dry lake and across the sand into the Casita Park neighborhood. But fortunately the day ended as a happy success story with exhausted fire-fighters returning to their homes.
Later that night, Baca EMTs and fire department volunteers responded to two other ambulance calls and a carbon monoxide alarm. The following 24 hours included two more ambulance calls, a search and rescue operation, and a Baca Grande chimney fire.
On the heels of other recent local medical tragedies, between March 14 and 16, Baca volunteer emergency responders responded to 9 calls within fewer than 72 hours.