Multiple fires broke out Tuesday night near the Pine River Senior Center during Bayfield’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration.
The fires were started by a low-flying firework launched by the town that spewed embers into nearby brush about 9:20 p.m., said Upper Pine River Fire Protection District Fire Chief Bruce Evans. The fires burned only about a fourth of an acre in total.
Two fires were ignited along the fence line of Pine River Arena and another on the west side of the senior center.
“We were prepared for it and got a handle on it,” Evans said. “But occasionally, you’ll get a short shell.”
Upper Pine firefighters, who were already on the scene, immediately took action to mitigate the fire. Also, spectators Robert and Danielle Coronado participated in the effort.
The Coronados both worked for Upper Pine before starting their own fire mitigation company, Coronado Consulting & Fire Mitigation LLC.
Danielle Coronado said about 10 minutes into the celebration, she and her husband noticed a fire had started along the fence line of the Pine River Arena. She said some of the fireworks appeared to be shooting lower than normal.
Upper Pine water tenders were quick to extinguish the fire along the fence line but Coronado’s son then noticed a slightly larger fire that started near the senior center. She estimated the fire was 10 to 15 feet from the senior center.
Robert Coronado asked Evans if firefighters needed help. Evans instructed them to conduct chain saw work to cut through some of the dense vegetation near the senior center.
The couple quickly grabbed their chain saws and personal protective equipment from their vehicle and made entry to where the fire was burning.
“We just started cutting the ladder fuels to try to keep the flames from getting into the trees,” Coronado said.
Evans said the two are highly skilled chain saw operators and that it took about an hour to get the fires under control. The fire did not damage either of the buildings and burned vegetation that Upper Pine had intended to set fire to but could not because of red flag warnings.
“One of the things that we’re doing with a lot of our wildland fires now is flying a drone over it with the infrared capabilities,” Evans said.
The drone allows firefighters to identify hot spots where there’s either a fire ignited or a piece of fuel that is still burning on the inside. That helps firefighters ensure the fire does not rekindle.
Evans speculates the firework that caused the fires had a short fuse. When a firework is launched, it starts another fuse that is measured to explode at the proper altitude. But if the fuse is slightly shorter, that can result in the shell bursting at a lower altitude.
“That’s kind of a normal thing that you prepare for,” Evans said. “That’s why we always have a fire truck and a bunch of firefighters hanging around the fireworks in case that happens.”
The city of Durango gave up on holding Fourth of July fireworks shows in favor of a drone show, largely because of the persistent fire danger.
Evans warned there has been a heavy amount of cottonwood fluff blowing around.
The highly flammable material created by cottonwood trees was heavily prominent around the areas where Tuesday night’s fires started.
He referenced an incident earlier this summer in which a man was skipping rocks. One rock hit another rock causing a spark. The spark was enough to catch the cottonwood material on fire.
“We see that stuff all over the place, and you don’t give it a second thought,” Evans said.