FLAMES NARROWLY MISS REDLANDS HOMES

Residents of an affluent Redlands neighborhood scorched by a fast-moving wildfire Wednesday morning had been trying to reduce the large amount of dry brush in the area, according to some homeowners.

The fire tore through 40 acres of cattails, oak brush and tamarisk, jumped a thoroughfare and forced the evacuation of about 20 homes.

Remarkably, only the exterior wall of one home in the Preserve subdivision was charred in the blaze, thanks to a number of firefighting agencies and law enforcement officers who battled the fire for hours after it broke out around 11 a.m.

Grand Junction Fire Department spokesman Mike Page said one firefighter suffered minor burns, and a fire engine sustained moderate damage, but the firefighter and truck remained on scene.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but some homeowners said it may have been started when a controlled weed fire got out of control.

Michael Black said he had just sat down at his computer and looked out the window and “saw 30-foot flames” in his backyard. He immediately ran out of the house with his wife and their
child.

Black said residents in the private community with homes situated on five to eight acres have long been trying to remove some of the dry underbrush, which he called a tinderbox.

“I know they’ve been trying to reduce it for a long time,” said Black, who has lived in the area for about a year.

As he waited at the entrance to the subdivision off 20 3/4 Road, a massive black plume of smoke rose up in the area.

“That doesn’t look good, does it?” he said, fretting, while other neighbors began gathering at the site, wondering about the welfare of their pets that were still inside or at their homes.

Authorities sent out a reverse 911 call to residents in the area, but some homeowners were reluctant to leave, even though firefighters stopped flames just a few feet short of some homes. 

The Ramos family, who live on the north side of Colorado Highway 340 across from the Preserve, left their home when the fire was controlled and soon looked back toward their home to see a billowing tower of smoke from where they were running errands on U.S. Highway 6&50.

The Ramoses, like others in the area, waited for hours outside, snacking on treats and drinking water provided by the American Red Cross as they watched the smoke begin to diminish. Authorities allowed residents to return to their homes about 4 p.m., and firefighters mopped up hot spots into the night.

Dalia Ramos said she was surprised when the fire jumped the highway, and flames were spotted in her neighbor’s yard on Ferree Drive.

“I was afraid it was going to get on my property,” she said.

School District 51 cancelled bus routes from Wingate Elementary School, and students were released to their parents.

Shane Salazar was on his way to pick up his sister, Summer, from work when he got a call on his cell phone from his parents about the fire. The family has lived in the Preserve for 10 years.

The siblings raced home, where they met their sister, Torrie, to find two firefighters battling the flames and trying to save homes. Shane Salazar and his sisters ended up helping crews by straightening out hoses. Salazar, who’s attending college in Florida for photography and marketing, also shot several pictures before he and his sisters ran through the thick brush and emerged on Broadway.

Summer Salazar lost her cell phone as they ran. But they know they could have lost much more.

“It’s crazy,” Shane Salazar said. “There’s a lot of burnt acreage. There’s a lot of black.”

A number of agencies assisted in the firefighting effort: the Grand Junction Fire Department, Mesa County Wildland Fire Team, Lower Valley Fire Department, Central Orchard Mesa Fire Department, Clifton Fire Department, BLM Fire, the Colorado State Patrol and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.

Staff writer Mike Wiggins contributed to this report.


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