fire

Twice in the past week, approximately two dozen trained responders including search and rescue volunteers, San Miguel County Sheriff deputies, and Telluride Fire Protection District (TFPD) EMS personnel coordinated to evacuate an injured recreator from the Mill Creek Waterline trail near Telluride. On Sunday, local fire authorities and volunteers responded to a small wildfire off Last Dollar Road and quickly brought the half-acre blaze under control.

The first of the two Mill Creek search and rescue missions was initiated shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday, when friends of an injured hiker called dispatch to report the accident. While hiking on a loose, rocky section of the trail, a 67-year-old Colorado woman slipped and fell, landing on her hip and fracturing her femur.

On Monday, within a quarter-mile of the previous incident on the Waterline trail, a 27-year-old woman from Golden was mountain biking when she “lost control of her bike and fell down an embankment about 25 feet,” according to authorities, “sustaining a significant wound to a lower extremity.” The woman was extricated from the trail and evacuated through a coordinated response effort in “another very efficient mission.”

“We had the good fortune of daylight and no weather issues on both missions,” noted Susan Lilly, public information officer for the Sheriff’s Office and TFPD. “While neither patient was miles up the trail, these missions require the expertise of each individual to work together safely and effectively in rough terrain. It is the consistent commitment of our volunteer medics and search and rescue members to train and respond to these emergencies so efficiently.”

In each case, first responders were on the scene assisting the hiker and biker in just under and just over an hour, respectively, from the time the page was received, with the injured parties subsequently transported to further medical care. In both incidents, the patients were packaged onto a specialized litter fitted with a mountain bike-style wheel to aid responders in extricating the patients smoothly and efficiently from the backcountry setting.

While the expertise and efficiency of the agencies involved in the rescues expedited the patients’ access to advanced medical treatment, factors such as remoteness, weather and terrain can complicate rescues and slow responders in search and rescue missions.

“You must plan for the unexpected when you venture into the backcountry,” advised Sheriff Bill Masters. “We want to be there for your emergency, but how and when rely on a number of factors, so you should be prepared to self-extricate, if possible, and have food, water and shelter to spend the night out if necessary.”

In Sunday’s response by the Telluride Fire Protection District, Sheriff’s deputies and Norwood Fire to a small wildfire on forest service land off Last Dollar Road, about 20 personnel and volunteers coordinated to contain the blaze. No structures were damaged, and no injuries were sustained as a result of the fire, which is believed to have begun due to an issue with a nearby powerline. 

“This was a relatively small fire, but it ends up providing great, real-scenario training for our staff and volunteers,” said Lilly, noting that San Miguel Power Association is addressing the powerline issue.

Though San Miguel County residents have experienced the smoke of recent regional wildfires drifting into the valleys over the past week, TFPD Chief John Bennett explained that there are currently no fire restrictions in San Miguel County, emphasizing a continuous collaborative approach involving multiple regional agencies to determine the need for restrictions. Similarly, the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village are not currently under fire restrictions, though visitors and residents should note that per town ordinances, open fires within the town limits are not permitted at any time.

“Utilizing science to determine policy is how we roll,” he said. “Even with no fire restrictions, when using best practices, fires are occurring in an established fire ring in an established campground, not out in the wilderness, plopping down under some trees and starting your own fire. Those are the things that cause forest fires. When you’re done with your fire, you’re putting it out until it’s cold to your palm.”

To check for the most up-to-date information regarding fire restrictions in the area, Bennett recommended visiting the Facebook and Twitter pages of Montrose Interagency Dispatch, San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office and the Telluride Fire Protection District.