Undaunted by high winds, firefighters nip blazes in tree, chip pile

       With winds howling up to 80 mph, two fires of unknown causes erupted but were quickly brought under control by teams of firefighters in the wee hours of Dec. 20.
       One was at a landscape-chip storage yard southwest of Arch Street and Busch Avenue in the Midland area, and the other was in an area of Vermijo Park between Fountain Creek and Highway 24 that's known to have transient campers.

A charred tree is a remnant of a fire that firefighters contained during high winds very early Dec. 20 in a natural area of Vermijo Park south of Fountain Creek. Signs of transient camping (seen in photo) include a fishing pole, plastic bag, metal container and bucket.
Westside Pioneer photo

       “High winds” complicated the fire-suppression effort in both cases, according to Lt. Bill Hull of the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Regarding causes, he said an arson investigation is not typically triggered unless there is structural damage, and neither had any.
       Hull said the first fire was at the chip yard at 12:20 a.m., requiring equipment and manpower from Fire Stations 3, 4, 5, 9, 13, 16 and 17, pouring 5,000 gallons of water on the blaze.
       The second fire was at Vermijo Park, called in at 1:25 a.m.. Stations 1, 2 and 10, responding to the call, found a downed tree on fire. City fire investigator Ray Johnson said crews put out the flames using hand tools and a hose supplied by water carried on the engine.
       According to Brett Iverson of City Police's Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), the flat, secluded site between the highway and Fountain Creek has been a popular transient site, and some had camped there recently, but “we got them moved along” before Dec. 21. He added that “a lot of people like to go down and hang out there,” though not necessarily to camp.
       A visit to the site this week revealed bottles, a fishing pole, clothes, a bucket, a metal container and a black plastic bag filled with unknown items.
       Neighbors in the Midland area have complained about potential fire danger at the 15-acre Arch Street chip yard, because of several large piles of chips in an area below a hillside and near other industrial activities along Busch. However, Johnson, visiting the site Dec. 22, said that the piles met all the code requirements, in terms of size, separation from each other and location on the property. Even if a pile self-combusts - not unusual because of the natural heat inside a large chip pile - there is an adequate buffer distance from the properties around it, he said.

A fire truck checks the chip piles in the 15-acre yard southwest of Arch Street and Busch Avenue Dec. 21. Buildings on the ridge in the background include those in the Village at Skyline retirement facility.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Sam Cameron of the Cameron Butcher Company, which manages the site for the property owner, Firm Ground LLC, said that the chip operation is being discontinued at the site - in a decision unrelated to the recent fire - and will become vacant land again. “The lease is coming to an end,” he explained. West Range Reclamation, an out-of-state company which has been leasing the 15-acre property to truck the chips in and out, is moving the operation elsewhere because of lack of demand in this area. Because of the amount of chips, the move “will take a few months,” Cameron said.
       In all, Firm Ground owns about 24 acres in that area, including 9 acres just to the west (south of Busch and the dead end of Race Street), County Assessor's Office records show.

Westside Pioneer article