Delays in response point to empty station
WILDERNEST – Firefighters would have arrived at Friday’s condominium fire faster if Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue had the funding to staff the Wildernest station. And the construction road block on Ryan Gulch Road didn’t help, either.Nine minutes after the first 911 call, said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Chief Francis Winston, the first fire engine arrived on the scene from Dillon, located three miles from central Wildernest. This came a few minutes after assistant chief Jeff Berino arrived without an engine, and before Frisco firefighters with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue arrived to help the Dillon crew. And firefighters from the Snake River Fire Department in Keystone and the Red, White and Blue Fire Department in Breckenridge later assisted them. Meanwhile, the Wildernest fire station sat empty, less than a mile from the blaze at the Deck Gore Range complex.While nobody was injured and the surrounding forest was saved from the fire, six condominiums were destroyed.
“I could have fire stations every five blocks, but if a 50 mph wind comes up, it wouldn’t matter,” Winston said. “There’s a certain risk we all accept living up here. You can only do what a community can afford.”Winston said his $3.1 million annual budget covers firefighters and equipment for two of the district’s five stations. But the Wildernest, Silverthorne and Dillon Valley stations do not have fire trucks or firefighters 24 hours a day, and the Silverthorne station houses district administrators.It would cost the Lake Dillon Fire Rescue District between $600,000 and $700,000 per year to keep four firefighters and a commander on duty at all times at the vacant Wildernest station, Winston said. He would have to hire at least 12 people and purchase another fire truck.Although Wildernest residents would prefer to have their station on Ryan Gulch Road operational, firefighters are providing the best service Wildernest has ever had, Winston said.
“Before we had hired such a strong, full-time, paid staff, you couldn’t get much of a response on fires because people had day jobs,” Winston said. In the past several years, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue went from a mostly volunteer-staffed department to a paid department.The now-vacant Wildernest station was originally used by volunteer firefighters and, while two student firefighters live there now, the garage is empty of trucks, hoses and ladders. Winston last winter rented the station out to snowplow drivers who work in the neighborhood.Voters have helped. Their approval of a three mill levy increase in 2001 helped the fire district’s annual budget raise from $1.6 million to just over $3.1 million. A $300,000 house, for example, would pay $181 of its property taxes to the fire district, Winston said.”That doesn’t even begin to cover my costs for staffing additional fire stations,” Winston said.In a couple years, Winston plans to go to voters again. The Taxpayers Bill of Rights requires approval for tax increases. It also limits how fast a government of special district, such as the Lake Dillon Fire Protection District, can grow each year.
On Monday, insurance agents and restoration crews investigated the extent of the damages. The close proximity to forest land does raise insurance costs for homeowners, who met on Monday in a closed session with Wildernest Property managers. The homeowners are deciding the next step, said Barbara Walter, operations director for Wildernest Property Management.Walter has helped find temporary rental units for the displaced families.Initial estimates indicated $500,000 in property damages. But costs might be a lot higher because each of the six condo units was valued at $128,000 on average, for a $768,000 total.Christine McManus can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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