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Where there’s smoke, there’s an answer

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

BAYFIELD – Eight Bayfield High School students got a practical introduction to urban firefighting Friday when they watched two dilapidated cabins go up in flames in the Forest Lakes subdivision.

The 500-square-foot A-frames, built in the mid-1970s by a developer to sleep potential lot buyers in the 1,600-acre subdivision, long ago had outlived their original purpose.

“This is instruction in fire behavior,” said Randy Larson, deputy chief of operations for the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District. “At the end of the semester the students will be qualified – with parental permission – to participate in live fire suppression.”

The juniors and seniors are enrolled in Fire 101, a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class of three hours each session. But it was all book learning up to Friday.

As flames and smoke visible through the front door took over the cabin, Larson explained the mechanics of a structure fire. He explained what different colors of smoke indicate, the different modes of ventilation and what happens in a flashover – when all interior materials reach ignition temperature at the same moment.

Among the points he made:

The smoke tells you what’s happening. Flames reveal only that something is burning.

A firefighter caught inside a structure in a flashover has about 5 seconds to live.

One gallon of water produces 1,700 gallons of steam. You have to know how to apply water to avoid steam burns.

Larson estimated the interior temperature of the blazing A-frame at 2,400 degrees.

In 27 minutes, the A-frame was only a roof supported by burning posts. At the 45-minute mark, the structure collapsed, leaving only a pile of flaming rubble.

Students Brandon Freedman, Tyler Meyers, Geoff Pope, Mike Kingan, Nate Goddard, Matt Eckstein, John Arnold and Austin McMenimen, all outfitted in firefighter garb, were impressed.

McMenimen and Goddard used the same words to describe their impressions of exercise: “I was amazed at how fast the flames took over the building.”

The three A-frames are among 12 that will be used by Upper Pine firefighters for training. Four were burned Thursday and the remaining five either will be burned soon or saved for future training, Larson said.

The elimination of the nearly 40-year-old cabins brings the end of an era.

“If they weren’t occupied by prospective buyers, the developer rented them to a resident’s visitors for a night,” said Dale Kortz, manager of the Forest Lakes Metro District.

In the late 1990s the developer, Southwest Properties, based in Mesa, Ariz., surrendered 14 cabins and the 15 acres they sat on to the federal Resolution Trust Corp., which sold the property at auction.

Resolution Trust was a government agency charged with liquidating insolvent real estate holdings. The buyer of the Forest Lakes property turned the A-frames into monthly rentals until she went bankrupt herself in 2011, Kortz said.

The Metro District, with an eye to developing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, bought the 15 acres and 12 cabins – two had burned accidentally – and removed asbestos from the cabins, then donated them to Upper Pine, Kortz said.

District officials worried that if the collection of A-frames caught fire the 770-home Forest Lakes subdivision could be in trouble, Kortz said. The cabin area was a “high priority” for mitigation.

The wildfire protection plan was completed and certified in 2010, he said.

The last phase of the project is leveling the structures and preparing the terrain for a recreation area with a ball field and picnic facilities for Forest Lakes residents, Kortz said.

daler@durangoherald.com

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