Golf Course Fire: 1 year later, blaze still fresh in Grand County memories
On June 28, 2018, the community of Grand Lake held its breath and waited in rapt apprehension as a blazing, churning maw of fire spread throughout the nearby forest.
The conflagration came to be known as the Golf Course Fire, and it happened quickly. The fire began around 2:30 p.m., near the lily pad-covered pond directly east of the Grand Lake Golf Course. It quickly grew and began spreading north toward the Columbine Lake subdivision.
The fire’s early growth led authorities to issue evacuation orders for roughly 300 homes in the area as over 100 firefighters descended on the scene. By 6 p.m. that evening, the fire had grown to roughly 10 acres, and more than 100 evacuees waited at the Grand Lake Community Center for news of their homes. A pair of airplanes carrying flame retardant slurry were called to assist firefighters on the ground while two helicopters ferried buckets of water from local sources onto the flames.
As the evening wore on, officials released updates that the fire had grown to roughly 20 acres in size. Evacuees were notified shortly before 8 p.m. that they would not be allowed to return to their homes as firefighters continued to battle the blaze throughout the night.
Fire mitigation work continued into the early morning of June 29, a Friday, though by 9 a.m., firefighters were getting a handle on the Golf Course Fire and were working to complete containment.
Early morning reports provided a bit of relief for many citizens with officials informing the community the fire had not damaged any homes or structures.
At around noon that day, authorities told residents the Golf Course Fire was 60 percent contained, though they continued to mop up hot spots that cropped up around the edges of the fire, including some as close as 10 yards away from homes in the Columbine Lake area. By noon, evacuees on the northern edges of the fire were allowed to return home.
While firefighters continued to battle hot spots on Friday, the Golf Course Fire did not grow at all, and it was fully contained. Around 6 p.m. that Friday night, county officials notified remaining residents that they too could return to their homes.
The final tally on the Golf Course Fire showed how closely the community of Grand Lake came to calamity, as firefighters, local law enforcement and emergency medical service personnel worked to protect the lives and property of Grand Lake.
Roughly 120 people helped stymie the Golf Course Fire utilizing over a dozen fire engines, along with aerial assets. The main body of the fire came within roughly 100 yards of some homes and slurry from air tankers dusted the landscape outside many buildings. However, no homes or structures were damaged by the fire, and there were no injuries reported.
Looking back on the incident, officials from the Grand Lake Fire Protection District are using the lingering memory of the Golf Course Fire to help push fire mitigation awareness.
According to then-Grand Lake Fire Chief Mike Long, thefirefighters’ efforts were greatly aided by a series of fuel-mitigation projects that had recently be undertaken in the area. Long said the mitigation work “without a doubt” saved the Columbine subdivision.
Over the past 12 months, Grand Lake’s Fire Department has undergone several personnel changes, including the entry of Fire Chief Kevin Ratzmann and Assistant Fire Chief Seth St. Germain.
“The big thing for us is pushing fire mitigation awareness and defensible space awareness,” St. Germain said. “We have also started a mitigation program.”
St. Germain added that Grand Lake Fire is currently working on mitigation projects on four properties in the area and may soon be expanding those efforts into various subdivisions within the district. He also highlighted the importance of the fire district’s relationships with federal partners and said he and Chief Ratzmann are working diligently to strengthen those relationships.
“Those partnerships have increased quite a bit,” St. Germain, said. “Conversations are happening more than in the past and we are doing some lateral training.”
While the severity of the Golf Course Fire lingers in the minds of many Grand Lake residents and Grand County’s first-responders, concerns about potential fire outbreaks this year have been blunted by cool summer weather that brought several bouts of snowfall to the High Country in recent weeks. In fact, much of the Grand Lake area is currently under a flood advisory following heavy summer snowfall that has swollen rivers and streams in Rocky Mountain National Park this week.
That dynamic represents a marked changed from conditions in early summer 2018, when little rainfall followed a tepid winter with mild temperatures and relatively little snowfall. On June 26, 2018, just two days before the Golf Course Fire was ignited, Grand County’s Commissioners voted to institute stage one fire restrictions in Grand County. Those restrictions did not officially go into effect, though, until 4 p.m. Thursday, roughly an hour-and-a-half after the Golf Course Fire was ignited.
The institution of fire restrictions last summer led to the cancelation of all fireworks displays in Grand County. Fire restrictions remained in effect for Grand County from late June through early October as fire officials battled several other blazes throughout the area including the Sugarloaf Fire and the Silver Creek Fire.
5 TIPS FOR NOT STARTING A WILDFIRE
Be cautious with campfires
If you plan to build a campfire, you’re responsible for maintaining and extinguishing the fire before you leave the area.
- Never leave a campfire unattended
- Allow the wood to burn to ash
- Pour water on the fire until the hissing sound stops or use a shovel to bury the fire
- If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave
Know the rules about fireworks
All fireworks that leave the ground are prohibited in Colorado, including firecrackers, rockets, Roman candles, cherry bombs and mortars. Purchasing fireworks in another state and transporting them to Colorado is illegal, according to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
Tips for using legal fireworks:
- Light fireworks one at a time
- Keep a bucket of water and a hose nearby
- Never light them near dry grass or other flammable materials
Park in designated areas
Something as simple as a hot exhaust pipe on dry grass can start a wildfire. It’s a busy week in Summit County, so be sure to park only in designated areas.
- Don’t drive your vehicle, including ATVs, onto dry grass or brush
- Secure chains to avoid throwing sparks
- Ensure ATVs have spark arresters, which are required by law
Be cautious with cigarette butts
Cigarette butts thrown from car windows can start wildfires. Plus, it’s illegal.
- Ensure the cigarette is fully extinguished
- Dispose of cigarette butts only in designated areas
Not sure what’s allowed in your area? Call the local fire protection district to ask.
• Grand Fire Protection District 970-887-3380
• Kremmling Fire Protection District 970-724-3795
• East Grand Fire Protection District 970-726-5824
• Hot Sulphur Springs/Parshall Fire Protection District 970-725-3414
• Grand Lake Fire Protection District 970-627-8428
Portions of this article previously published July 3, 2018, in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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