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Remote neighborhood installs water tanks for fire protection

BRECKENRIDGE – A house fire on Lee Lane in Breckenridge two winters ago was a firefighter’s nightmare.

The house fire was at the base of Hoosier Pass, up a winding dirt road. The flames were licking at nearby trees, twisting diabolically into the night air with the high winds. There were reports that a man was inside the house.

The nearest water supply was at Ski and Racquet condominiums – five miles away. The fire, it was later learned, was caused by an arsonist.



Red, White and Blue Fire Capt. Mike Rutherford remembers the fire well.

“We got there pretty quick, but it’s a long way to travel,” he said. “Northstar Village is way, far away, and it’s uphill, and we can only get there so fast. By the time we got there, the house was pretty well involved. Unfortunately, and through no fault of anybody, we didn’t have a water supply.”



Firefighters set up a pool to contain water, filled it with water from pumper trucks and left to get more as other firefighters used that water to extinguish the fire.

“If we had had a hydrant there, we would have had a much better chance of getting the fire out quicker,” Rutherford said. “There just wasn’t a water supply. At one point, we ran out of water; we had to wait for water to get there.”

The house was completely burned – the man inside escaped unharmed. The arsonist was tried and convicted.

The challenge of fire protection in far-flung subdivisions is ongoing for all of Summit County’s fire districts. Some neighborhoods have installed cisterns, but sometimes they’re not maintained, or parts are frozen in the winter.

“And this year, the water’s so low, it’s hard to get to anything,” Rutherford said. “Another big thing is notification. It takes so long for us to find out about fires, the houses sometimes can’t be saved when we get there. And south of town, we rely on the hydrant at Ski and Racquet.”

With that memory still fresh in their minds, homeowners at Northstar Village have taken it upon themselves to protect their neighborhood. The homeowners board recently spent about $30,000 to drill a 300-foot well and install two, 2,500-gallon water tanks. Firefighters can access the water with pumps affixed to each tank.

According to homeowners association president Don Carlson, each of the subdivision’s 50 or so homeowners will be asked to pay a one-time, $172 fee to reimburse the association’s coffers. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind – particularly in this dry summer, Carlson said.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Rutherford said. “I wish we had fire hydrants up there; we just don’t. We do the best we can with what we have. I’ve been here for 10 years, and that whole area has always been a concern. When you don’t have water, it changes things dramatically.”

The homeowners in Northstar Village also have spent about $30,000 to remove and chip slash along right-of-ways in the subdivision, Carlson said. Rutherford encourages other homeowners and association boards to be as proactive as those in Northstar Village.

“We really need the citizens to take a stand and say, “We will put in water,'” he said. “We’ve been trying to address this for years.”

Those interested in learning more about installing cisterns or tanks or reducing fire danger in their neighborhoods can call their fire department’s fire prevention bureau.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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