Volunteer firefighters are the guardians of the rural West – Colorado News

Volunteer firefighters are the guardians of the rural West – Colorado News

Denver Post file

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter thanks volunteer firefighters who had fought the Fourmile Canyon fire in Boulder in September 2010. Nearly two-thirds of the approximately 30,000 fire departments nationwide are run solely by volunteers.

If the universe wanted to challenge volunteer firefighters, it would arrange for a fire emergency right smack in the middle of a small town’s annual festival, when fire crews are busy helping run the parade and other events.

In this case, lightning started a fire sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning during Mancos Days, a July celebration in this town of 1,400 in southwestern Colorado. Five members of the 15-member Mancos Fire and Rescue crawled out of their beds and responded when the wildfire was reported at about 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 30.

As if to test their mettle, smoke was coming from a hard-to-reach cranny of a canyon, with steep terrain full of scrub oak, cedars and pine at an elevation of 7,800 feet. The blaze was also close to homes and less than a mile from the harsh remnants of the devastating Weber Fire, which burned 10,000 acres and caused dozens of evacuations five years ago.

Massive fires tend to dominate the headlines. But people often forget that even the biggest conflagration starts out as a flicker, and that the first sighting is often responded to, not by helicopters and Hotshots, but by local volunteers with day jobs.

Before sunup in Mancos that Sunday, the crew headed east up U.S. 160 in three Type 6 brush trucks, specially outfitted pickup trucks loaded with 200 gallons of water and many yards of hose. They continued as far as they could on private gravel roads, and got closer in an…

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