The Crestone Eagle, May 2003:

Fire destroys Wild Cherry Creek homestead, 6 Saguache County fire depts. Respond
by Mary Lowers

At around 6pm on Sunday, April 27, northern Saguache County fire departments were paged out to a fire near Wild Cherry Creek. The rapidly spreading fire destroyed a 2 story cabin, out buildings and three propane tanks. The property is owned by the Santa Fe Community School and located at the extreme east end of County Road Z, which runs toward the mountains from County Road 65. Structures and livestock were threatened, along with pristine forest lands surrounding the area. Most of the large Jacob’s family, who live and farm on the property, were at the park in Crestone when the fire started in the chicken coop. When the fire was noticed by a family member who had remained home, she was not able to get closer than 100 feet to the fire with the hose due to the heat. She quickly contacted the rest of the family who called emergency services.

According to Incident Commander John Collier of the Saguache Fire Department, there were six Valley fire departments who responded to the blaze: Moffat, Saguache, Baca, Crestone, Center and Villa Grove. Saguache County sent out the county water tender and the Forest Service sent out a truck and crew. The first to arrive on the scene were the Saguache and Moffat fire fighters. Pete Stagner of the Moffat crew said, “I could see the fire from my house.”

The fire evidently started in a chicken house. Although the cause is undetermined, spontaneous combustion is suspected. A strong wind fanned the flames and the fire moved quickly east. A cabin, three travel trailers, a generator shed, the chicken house, baby chicks and one of the family dogs were lost in the blaze. The family lost all their worldly goods in the fire. But according to family spokeswoman, Leah Walker, quick response by the fire departments kept the incident from being much more devastating. “We are so grateful to the fire departments for getting all the way out here so quickly.” The family herd of milk goats and the laying hens survived. No one—fire fighter or family member—was seriously hurt.

Incident Commander Collier, said the first concern was the cabin with a full basement. Cottonwood trees and four propane tanks were located very close to the structure. Fire fighters wet down the already hot tanks, but it was too late. Fire fighter Pete Stagner said, “These tanks are designed to take a whole lot of heat, before they release pressure.” Pressure valves on the tanks released, sending flammable propane gas skyward. According to Crestone Fire Chief, Talmath Mesenbrink, flames shot over a hundred feet into the air like blow torches. Residents on the west side of the Valley and Casita Park, could see the flash of flames in the sky as three propane tanks blew!

There was a small cache of ammunition in the basement of the cabin which exploded in the inferno. According to fire fighters the scene was surreal, with exploding munitions and a solar battery bank going up in purple and green flames. Collier ordered all fire fighters to put on their Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBAs). “I made the call early, Collier said. We didn’t know what we were dealing with, and fire fighter safety comes first.”

At the scene fire departments were assigned different tasks by the incident commander. Saguache and Moffat concentrated on the main blaze, with Pete Stagner of the Moffat Fire Department in charge of main fire operations. The Villa Grove Fire Department, under Cody Cruthers, ran the lower staging area. Located at the Y in the rough, rutted road up to the property, the lower staging area served to coordinate the flow of traffic-—vehicles, water and people—up to the fire.

“Right away traffic was a big concern,” Collier said. This was critical because stalled or slowed traffic, supplies not getting to the site right when needed, or curious people trying to get a look at the site can negatively affect getting the fire under control. Time is essential in any emergency. The Center Fire Department handled much of the pumping.

At the staging area were three ambulances. Crestone EMT, Pam Gripp, told me that when a fire department is called out, the ambulance is automatically called as well, since you never know if it will be needed. Three ambulance crews Saguache, Center, and Crestone/ Baca were at the scene. Pam commented on the cooperation among the emergency crews on the scene, “Seven fire departments and not a cross word.” Saguache County Deputy, Mike Miller, handled security at the fire.

When the Crestone Fire Department arrived, Collier put them in charge of spot fires which were beginning to flare up. The moisture we have gotten definitely helped slow down the fire. But Collier said, “It’s still pretty dry and there were spot fires we could not tend to right away because of the immediate danger from the big blaze.” A change in wind direction shortly after crews arrived on the scene also helped control the blaze.

The Baca Fire Department was assigned wildland fire perimeter duty. Collier said the Forest Service came up and walked the far reaches of the fire around National Forest and BLM land, running around east of the fire to check for sparks blowing far afield. According to Collier, and all the fire fighters and emergency personnel I spoke with, everyone was delighted with the quick response to the scene and the ability of all departments to work efficiently and effectively together.

Over 70,000 gallons of water were hauled to fight this fire. Water was also pumped from Wild Cherry Creek, which is flowing. When I went up to the site on Monday, April 28, the Moffat Fire Department was soaking down potential hot spots around the ruined cabin with water they were pumping from the creek. The area of the main fire was relatively small for all it’s intensity. I crossed the creek and walked into a clearing—an area of maybe fifty to a hundred feet was burned and blackened. All that remains of the cabin is a brick and cement chimney rising out of the smoldering foundation. The basement, which was filled with water by fire fighters, was still bubbling and steaming. The charred carcass of a dog was sadly evident along with the still discernable remains of a wheel chair. Pete Stagner said the scariest thing was thinking how quickly the fire could have rushed up the creek canyon.

The Jacob’s family, while attempting to keep their spirits up, are in shock and devastated by this event. They have no idea what they will do. They are particularly concerned about medical supplies for their son Samuel, who is a paraplegic due to a vehicle accident last year. He lost a wheel chair and shower chair in the blaze. The family needs lots of things from pots and pans to bedding. You can call Neighbors Helping Neighbors at 256-4401 and ask Lynda about donation needs. Cash donations to help the family rebuild their lives can be deposited in the Neighbors Helping Neighbors account at the Saguache County Credit Union in Moffat. The check can be made out to Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and put “fire fund” on the memo.

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