Radio amateurs muster for Hayman Fire communications support
More than 70 Amateur Radio Emergency Service team members have provided front-line support in the face of the Hayman Fire—now being called the largest fire in Colorado’s history. Hundreds of firefighters aided by aerial tankers and helicopters continue to battle the blaze that, as of today, had destroyed 25 homes and scorched some 103,000 acres of the Colorado mountains southwest of Denver.
The fire is 47% contained, but it may take as long as three months to be fully extinguished.
“This is amateur radio at its finest. Operators are working shifts in sometimes harsh conditions, driving many miles home to rest, then turning around to pull another shift, often in a completely different location, said Jeff Ryan, K0RM, the section manager in Colorado for the American Radio Relay League, Newington, CT, a national amateur radio association.
Both mandatory and voluntary evacuation decrees affected more than 15,000 people. Ryan said that by the end of last week, some 5,500 residents had been evacuated. For the first time in its history, the Pike National Forest was closed to the public.
Authorities first blamed an illegal campfire with starting the blaze. Later, a U.S. Forest Service employee, Terry Barton, 38, was arrested and charged with starting the fire on June 8. She faces as much as 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted on charges of setting fire to timber in a national forest, damaging federal property and making false statements to federal fire investigators.
Barton first reported the fire, and discrepancies between her statements and forensic evidence led investigators to question her statement that she had come across a campfire that had spread.
Ryan said that many radio amateurs in Colorado were able to stand down by the end of last week as the primary served agencies—various sheriff’s offices—turned over responsibility for fighting the fire to the federal government. Served agencies had included the sheriff’s offices in Douglas, Arapahoe, Jefferson and Teller counties as well as the Jefferson County Incident Management Team; West Metro (Denver) 911 Center; and the Federal Type 1 Wildland Fire Incident Management Team command centers.
More than two dozen amateurs remained on duty as late as Friday, June 14, Ryan said, to provide round-the-clock support for the Mile High and Pikes Peak chapters of the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. Amateurs from the Jefferson, Douglas, Park, Arapahoe, Pikes Peak, Boulder, Denver, Adams, Fremont and Pueblo ARES groups have been participating.
Offers of assistance have been received from individual hams outside of the state. ARRL Colorado Section Emergency Coordinator Mike Morgan, N5LPZ, said, “Since the different groups have drilled together in the past, coordination and cooperation between groups is seamless.”
Meanwhile, some 150 miles west of Denver, the Coal Seam Fire near Glenwood Springs has burned 10,000 acres and destroyed 28 homes. Most evacuated residents were allowed to return home as cooler temperatures and decreasing winds allowed firefighters to gain ground against the blaze, Ryan said. Eleven radio amateurs from Garfield and Eagle ARES groups supported Red Cross shelters in the area.
(By Don Bishop and the American Radio Relay League Letter)