The Crestone Eagle • October, 2021

Multiple fire departments respond to Baca home fire Property mitigation prevented community wildfire

by Lori Nagel

(L to R) Corez Hines, firefighter and Emergency Medical Responder, Kara Voss, firefighter with interest in EMS, Christina Lakish, firefighter and EMT and Jim Vanderpool, Baca Fire Department Chief and Incident Commander of this fire, posed for this shot the morning after the fire in front of their “Baca Tender 1” fire truck at the Baca Fire Station. photo by Lori Nagel

At 5:47pm on September 15, the Baca Fire Department was alerted of a house fire on Caprice Way in Baca Chalet 2. Firefighters rushed to the scene.  Baca Fire Chief Jim Vanderpool was the Incident Commander of this fire and stated, “We’re short staffed, and that really hurt us in the very beginning, but we did pretty well with what we had on scene and then once backup (mutual aid) showed up, we were able to actually get it under control.”

That mutual aid came from Crestone, Moffat, Saguache, Villa Grove, Hooper, Mosca, Center and Alamosa, with the Colorado Department of Fire Control taking over for the mop-up of the house, ensuring there were no smokers. They’re trained for that, have the equipment and were fresh people at a time when everyone else was feeling spent. Vanderpool said the mutual aid was key in getting this fire out as quickly as they did and helped prevent it from spreading. The other key? Fire mitigation.

Fire Departements from the Baca, Crestone, Moffat, Saguache, Villa Grove, Hooper, Mosca, Center and Alamosa, and the Colorado Department of Fire Control sent help to put out this house fire in the Baca Grande Chalets, which was reported at 5:47 PM on September 15 and burned for close to 8 hours. photo by Lori Nagel

The central theme surrounding this fire is how well-mitigated the property was, thanks to Lisa Bodey and her crew, whom the homeowner had hired. Corez Hines, EMS and Fire Dept., recalled, “It was a perfect example of why mitigation and defensible positions are great for our community. It’s not just protecting your property—it’s protecting other people’s property from your property, and vice versa. I heard a lot of people say they understand now why it’s so importan.”  Vanderpool also mentioned if there’d been no mitigation, it would have been a different type of fire. “If it had gotten to the trees, we would’ve had to abandon the house right then and try to save the next one.”

It was an intense fire to extinguish. The entire attic was engulfed by huge flames shooting up from both ends of the house, with smaller ones along the middle. Parts of the roof were falling to the ground and burning around the perimeter of the house. Trees loomed above the back deck and screened porch, threatening to catch fire. A couple branches did ignite, but were extinguished quickly.  Neighbors stood watching the fire with the 7-year homeowner, Brian Buckner, who said his wallet, keys and cell phone were still inside, but more than anything, he was thankful to be out alive and unharmed.

When the fire initially began, Andy Wellman was the first neighbor on the scene. “I saw smoke from my house, and while it wasn’t very much, it was more than I want to see in the Baca. I drove over and Buckner was standing out front with a garden hose, with his whole porch on fire. I called 911, and because of water pressure, we only had one garden hose to spray on it until the fire department arrived. The fire worked its way up the walls and into the attic, and then there was nothing we could do. 

The kitchen the morning after the fire. photo by Lori Nagel

Buckner had his truck plugged into an exterior outlet with an extension cord. The entire outlet was melted. It appeared that could be where the fire started, but an offical cause has not yet been given. 

Next door neighbor April Flowers, stated, “At first it looked like a forest fire. Extremely dense smoke was coming from the roof. I couldn’t even breathe through it.”  Another neighbor, Max Plotnick, said it was shocking and scary. “It burned for a long time, then it seemed to get better, and then it would ignite again, and then it would get better. My family was concerned we’d have to flee. We packed our bags and were ready to go at any time.”

There was another fire reported on Brook Trout Trail that evening, but was a small car fire and easily extinguished. Vanderpool recalled, “We’ve had that happen a few times where one fire starts when another one’s already going and it’s always scary, but the second fire was a quick one, thank goodness.”

Alder Lakish, fire fighter, posted about this incident on Facebook, saying, “Despite repeatedly running all of our local trucks dry and having to refill from hydrants blocks away and also running out of oxygen bottles for SCBA units and having to continue fighting the fire in blinding clouds of smoke while not even being able to see one’s own gloves and gasping for every breath, our local teams, led by Incident Commander Jim Vanderpool, heroically held the line and prevented the fire from escaping into the forest, where it easily could have turned into a major forest fire consuming thousands of acres.”

In true community spirit, a few community members arrived with a ton of food around 10pm, including a huge batch of chili and homemade peach cobbler. Lisa Bodey, Nick Nevares, Don Gifford and Scott Stevens were among those who contributed, thanks to a Facebook post from Bodey. Much gratitude to all who fed those fire fighters.  

The Great Room the morning after the fire. photo by Lori Nagel

The next morning, as Buckner walked very carefully through what remained of his house, there were a lot of mixed emotions, with an overwhelming sense of gratitude prevailing. The first thing he did was look for his keys, wallet and cell phone. Miraculously, he found all 3 still intact (well, almost) and the cell phone still worked!  Buckner said that morning, “My statement is just: Thank you to the Fire Department and all the amazing people who came to help and who are still helping me. It’s touched my heart and I’m very grateful. Thank you.”

Vanderpool concluded with, “The main lesson is the house was mitigated, and that’s what saved all the forest above it.”