by M. Diane Bairstow
The call came in at 5:45pm Tuesday, March 15 during the regularly scheduled meeting of the Baca Grande Fire Dept. (BGFD). As all the firefighters were present, the response time was immediate. When the BGFD arrived on the scene, smoke and flames were issuing from the roof, and bystanders told responders that the house was full of smoke. The homeowner’s, David Lindsey’s, truck was in the driveway, and bystanders were concerned that he was in the house so they had broken in windows and called to him.
Captain Ben Brack, as the first fire department member on the scene, took over the position of Incident Commander. He immediately called for aid from the Northern Saguache County Fire Protection District (NSCFPD). Then Brack transferred command to Lieutenant Treat Suomi to initiate an emergency search of the building. Brack and another responder suited up in SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) gear and entered the building looking for the resident. They went through the house once and opened another door to release smoke, and then returned for a second time as life/safety issues were involved. No one was found in the house. Throughout the night, Brack and Suomi handed the position of Incident Commander back and forth between them as seemed appropriate.
By the time they had depleted their first air packs—about 45 minutes—”the cavalry,” as Brack put it, had arrived. Villa Grove, Saguache, Moffat and Crestone Fire Departments were on the scene as well as the Sagauche County Sheriff’s Dept. and the Baca ambulance. Throughout the evening, the combined fire departments went through every available air pack in an effort to put out the fire. The ceiling was filled with cellulose insulation, which has some fire retardant qualities but is basically recycled paper and is almost impossible to put out without exposing it and getting it wet. Thus the ceilings in the house had to be knocked down in an effort to contain the fire. “Every time we thought we had it under control,” Brack said, “it would flare up again.” By 3am, they had finally put it out, and cleanup at the scene continued until 6:30am.
In Brack’s eleven-year tenure on the BGFD, he has never before seen a fire of this magnitude. Between the BGFD and the mutual aid from the other area fire departments, they had “just enough” responders and equipment. “It was eye-opening and humbling,” he said.
Since the incident at least 100 hours have been put in to restock and restore the equipment for post-incident readiness in case another call should come in. Once again, our responders are to be commended for their service and dedication to our community.
Lieutenant Suomi and Captain Brack wants to thank all the fire departments that responded as well as the community members who helped in the effort, especially Keith Davies, Maia Dercum, Anne Silver and John Grotenhuis who brought food and beverages throughout the night to the fire fighters, and especially Tshering Dorji from the Desert Sage who donated food and drinks. Also thanks to Laurie Lang who gave invaluable support with check-in and logistics. During the post-incident cleanup efforts, the POA donated pizzas and Joy and Elizabeth Hill brought food for the volunteers.
David Lindsey is alive and well, and he said in an email updating the Eagle about the fire “grateful for all the care and love I’m receiving from all my friends and this lovely community,” He has insurance, and the insurance investigator determined that the cause of the fire was due to an electrical fault in the wall to the left of the front door, most probably from gnawing mice (not from something on the deck as it first appeared to the fire department and which was erroneously reported in this article posted on the Eagle website). A spark then ignited the cellulose insulation in the ceiling. The fire retardant in this type of insulation, the investigator said, wears off after a year or so leaving the homeowner with, basically, flammable paper in walls and ceiling. David says he plans to rebuild and wants to give a special thanks to the Baca Volunteer Fire Department, the Crestone Fire Department and the Northern Saguache Fire Protection District.