Fire districts forecast smoky future

The winter of 2007-08 has brought extreme and devastating heat to Durango along with the cold. Local fire and rescue officials are reporting a dramatic increase in the number of structure fires compared with past years. They are also forecasting more smoke in La Plata County’s future.

In the first 10 weeks of 2008, the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District responded to nine house fires in Forest Lakes. JD Burke, fire-prevention officer with the Upper Pine, said that’s a significantly higher number than normal.

Most of these fires were weather related, and as snow and ice begin to slough off of roofs, Burke said he expects to see the fire danger increase. “Shedding snow can damage roofs, chimneys and vents, increasing danger for fires and carbon monoxide,” he said. “Falling snow can also damage gas lines and propane tanks, which increases the danger for gas and propane leaks.”

The Durango Fire and Rescue Authority also has dealt with an unusually high number of structure fires this year, according to Dave Abercrombie, public information officer.

Abercrombie noted that Durango Fire and Rescue recently responded to a fire in a barn where shifting snow had pushed an electrical pole away from the building, pulling the wires from their mounting and setting the roof on fire.

“The best thing to do is to remove snow in as controlled a manner as possible,” Abercrombie said. “If you can control how snow slides off the roof so that it’s away from infrastructures, you can help alleviate related fire dangers.”

He added that use of propane fire devices to melt snow on roofs is strictly discouraged, noting that Durango Fire and Rescue just responded to a fire related to such a device.

With the current break in winter weather, Burke said he encourages homeowners to do a second round of checks to see if there is any damage that had gone unnoticed that may lead to increased fire danger.


Desert Rock dollars take a hit

The national economic slowdown could ripple through the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant. The Blackstone Group, Desert Rock’s financial backer, recently reported staggering losses in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Desert Rock is the brainchild of Sithe Global, a privately held power company based in Houston. However, Blackstone is the financial backing behind the 1,500-megawatt plant, which is proposed for a site southwest of Farmington on the Navajo Nation. The Blackstone Group, Wall Street’s largest buyout fund, purchased an 80 percent stake in Desert Rock in 2005, and Sithe retains the remaining interest.

Just after Blackstone’s entry, Dirk Straussfeld, executive vice president for Sithe, wrote, “This transition greatly enhances Sithe Global Power’s financial capability to develop large-scale projects such as Desert Rock.”

However, Blackstone’s financial capability has been in question since the company went public last June. In that time, Blackstone’s stock has been on a steady slide, culminating in an 89 percent drop in fourth quarter profits. The company also reported losses of $170 million in the same three-month period and has lost 55 percent of its market value since going public.

Plus, Blackstone does not expect to see daylight anytime soon. Tony James, president of Blackstone, told, “Credit market problems persist and if anything have gotten worse. We’re looking to 2009 before we see much of an improvement.’’ 

Foundation aids area nonprofits

Twelve area nonprofits got big boosts this week as the El Pomar Foundation rolled into town with a six-figure pool of funding. The Colorado Springs private foundation made the awards during a March 11 presentation at Fort Lewis College.

The recipients were selected by the foundation’s Southwest Regional Council, which was created to better understand and respond to the specific needs of Colorado’s rural communities. The council includes local representatives who identified important issues and needs specific to the region.

For a second year, the council funded the Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Program, known as RSAPP, with a $75,000 grant to Fort Lewis College, which serves as fiscal agent for this program. 

The Archuleta County Education Center in Pagosa Springs was the recipient of a $25,000 matching grant to support its new program, Windows to the World. Other major grant recipients included San Juan Basin Health Department’s Southwest Smile Makers Dental Program and Montezuma County Health Department’s Children’s Dental Program. 

Other nonprofits given merit grants are: Community Foundation of Southwest Colorado, Dolores County TV 4-H News Program, Durango Food Bank, Humane Society of Pagosa Springs, La Plata Family Centers Coalition, The Nest, Renew Inc., and the Violence Prevention Coalition of Southwest Colorado.



New hazard appears on the Piedra

Big water won’t be the only danger on the Piedra River this year. The San Juan National Forest has reported a downed footbridge on the Class IV stretch of whitewater. The riverwide hazard will present a danger to boaters and will not be removed until water levels subside.

The Sheep Creek Trail Bridge over the Piedra collapsed due to heavy snows this winter. The bridge is below the First Box Canyon and about 3.5 river miles downstream of the First Fork put-in. The downed footbridge remains well anchored at each end and spans the entire river. As run-off begins, the Forest Service expects the bridge to collect considerable amounts of debris and present a dangerous situation for river runners.

Those running the first box will have to portage the bridge and the log jams it’s expected to create. The portage promises to be difficult as well, since steep banks and the absence of beaches and eddies above the bridge could make take-out extremely difficult and hazardous. The Forest Service will not remove the bridge until after high water due to safety and access concerns.


Road racing returns to Durango

Bicycle racing returns to Durango this weekend. The Fort Lewis College Cycling Team will hold its annual Squawker Classic road racing events March 15-16.  

The weekend kicks off with the “Bread/East Animas Team Time Trial” on the morning of March 15. Teams of four riders will race along County Road 250 starting in town and finishing high on Old Shalona, just before the railroad tracks. Racing action will continue that afternoon with the “Morehart Neighborhood Criterium” taking place in the historic downtown residential area. The course is a fast, spectator-friendly circuit utilizing Fourth, Fifth and Sixth avenues as well as Eighth, Ninth and 10th streets. Racing concludes Sunday with the “Coca-Cola Road Race.” This new event includes a spectator-friendly start/finish on historic Mill Street in Bayfield. Racers will ride a course south on the Buck Highway toward Ignacio and return to Bayfield on county roads 517/518/516.

Minor traffic delays can be expected during the time trial and road race. The criterium course will be closed to traffic from noon-5 p.m. Mill Street in Bayfield will be closed to traffic from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. on March 16.

For more information, visit

– Amy Donahue & Will Sands