A picture and short story that appeared in The Times-Independent that year shows State Forester Dick Buehler presenting the truck to State Fire Warden Robin Donoghue with Grand County Commission members Harvey Merrell and Leo Burr looking on. That old picture is probably still somewhere in the T-I files.
That first truck was a federal excess personal property vehicle that was on loan to state foresters for the purpose of wildland and rural firefighting. Most of the property originally belonged to the Department of Defense, and once acquired by the Forest Service it is placed with local departments to improve local fire programs. The Castle Valley Fire Department currently has three of those vehicles.
At about the same time, the fire department leased a piece of property from the state School and Institution Trust Land Administration and sponsored barbecues and other fundraisers to raise the money to begin constructing a building to house the fire truck and hold training meetings. Somewhere along the way, a special service district was formed and the department began receiving meager funds through taxes from the mostly impoverished Castle Valley residents at the time.
During the early years of the community, the fire station was the town’s only public building and it served as a meeting place for the property owners association and social functions. The town council also met there for a period of time after incorporation.
But fires and fire prevention have always been part of our existence in the valley. Thirty years ago this week, this column reported a grass fire that was started by a well driller when the muffler of a drill rig ignited the dry grass beneath the truck and quickly began spreading. That old deuce-and-a-half military fire truck and a crew of volunteers were on the scene within minutes and contained the fire to about an acre.
Some of our worst fires were started by well drillers, usually from welding and grinding. Exactly five years earlier, in 1979 for example, this column reported that driller Jack Cluff escaped serious injury when the acetylene bottle of his welding set caught fire and blew up. The explosion sent shrapnel flying 300 feet in the air and rocked nearby houses. The sound could be heard throughout the valley. A portable arc welder and the drill rig sustained damage, and the explosion started a fire in the dry grass, which was put out by the fire department. But in his defense, it was Friday the 13th.
In that same column of 30 years ago I reported on fire prevention and the community’s effort to mitigate disastrous fires. The column stated that “firebreaks are currently being constructed in the River Ranchos to help control the possibility of a wildfire. The joint venture between the River Ranchos Property Owners Association, Castle Valley Fire Department and the Grand County Road Department will develop firebreaks on easements between property boundaries at potential trouble spots. In addition, Canyonlands Contracting has been hired by the POA to clear the roads to their maximum width. The county will spend approximately two days clearing the 15-foot-wide strip of land.”
I don’t think we would get away with creating firebreaks down to mineral soil between lots today, but it still seems like a good idea to interrupt the fuel source and slow or stop the spread of a wildfire.
This week, in a proactive measure to prevent wildfires, the Bureau of Land Management has issued a fire prevention order due to extremely dry conditions. The order states: “The following acts are prohibited on federal lands, roads, trails and waterways. (1) No campfires, except in permanently constructed cement or metal fire pits provided in developed campgrounds and picnic areas. (2) The use/discharge of any kind of fireworks, explosives, incendiary or chemical devices, pyrotechnic devices, exploding targets or use of steel core/jacketed ammunition. (3) Operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device properly installed. (4) Cutting, welding or grinding metal in areas of vegetation.” Devices fueled by petroleum or liquid propane gas, charcoal burning in permanent fire rings or grills and smoking are all allowed only in 10ft. X 10ft. areas clear of flammable vegetation. The order takes effect July 11. The fire restrictions will be imposed until further notice on BLM, National Park Service, state lands and all unincorporated private lands throughout Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan counties.