|Three fireman injured when wind shifts, fire covers stuck truck in Yuma County|
|Written by Brenda Johnson Brandt|
Holyoke VFD summoned to assist Haxtun Dept. in Phillips Co. fire during high winds Sunday
Jennifer Struckmeyer of the Wages Volunteer Fire Department suffered second- and third-degree burns on 25 percent of her body in the Heartstrong Fire in Yuma County Sunday afternoon, March 18.
Struckmeyer is in the North Colorado Medical Center Burn Unit in Greeley, where she expects to stay for four to six weeks.
Donations are being collected at Ardie’s Boutique at 235 S. Campbell in Holyoke to go directly to Jennifer and Del Struckmeyer to assist in their expenses. Ardie Besse indicated checks may be made out to Jennifer or Del and will be taken to them on a regular basis in the upcoming weeks.
High winds gusting up to 50-70 mph wreaked havoc on Northeast Colorado firefighting Sunday.
Nine volunteer fire departments, including Wages, were called to the Heartstrong Fire in Yuma County. Meanwhile, Holyoke VFD was among around seven departments providing mutual aid to the Haxtun department at a grass fire southeast of Haxtun.
While the exact cause of the Yuma County fire is still under investigation, Sheriff Chad Day said it is believed to be a result of an electrical spark of some kind. It started around 1:15 p.m. Sunday 15 miles southeast of Yuma.
Smoke and dirt rocked the range southeast of Yuma Sunday afternoon, March 18, when wind gusts of 50-70 mph pushed a fast-moving fire north toward the town of Eckley. It burned an area of about 24,000 acres, destroyed two homes completely, severely injured Wages firefighter Jennifer Struckmeyer and damaged crops and topsoil, yet brought together neighbors and friends to fight the obstacles as a community. —Photo by Tony Rayl, Yuma Pioneer
Residents in the town of Eckley, located between Yuma and Wray on Highway 34, were evacuated Sunday afternoon, as were numerous rural Yuma County residents in the path of the fire.
After evaluating the fire damage from the air Monday morning, Sheriff Day said the fire was 100 percent contained and the evacuation order was lifted for the entire burn area.
He noted identified hotspots were still being managed, and he confirmed Monday the total burn area was 24,000 acres, or 38 square miles.
Two homes were a complete loss. Residents who lost their homes were Florence Pletcher at Yuma County Road 31 and Road M and Dwaine and Lucy Eastin, whose home was located at County Road 26 and Road M.
Sheriff Day said Monday there wasn’t any confirmed information on the total cost of the fire. Residents are still trying to assess their livestock and damage to fields.
According to Sheriff Day, the biggest cost will likely be due to loss of crops and damage to topsoil. He added there will likely be significant damage to engines and farm equipment due to the mixture of thick smoke and dirt being blown by the strong winds.
Jennifer Struckmeyer, her brother-in-law and sister-in-law Damon and Pam Struckmeyer and their nephew Darren Stewart were helping fight the Heartstrong Fire when the wind shifted direction suddenly around 2 p.m., and the Wages VFD three-year-old fast attack truck was stuck.
Trying to prepare for the oncoming fire, Damon and Darren were on the back of the truck, starting a water spray over them. Pam was inside the cab, but Jennifer was outside the truck and tripped, losing her boot when she fell.
Suddenly the blaze was over them, said Pam on Monday, reliving the horrifying moment. She said she’s the one who was screaming into the radio to report where they were.
Dirt and smoke left visibility at only a few feet, and it took probably a half hour for anyone to find them, said Pam. After going back to the area Monday, she said they had been within 100 feet of where Damon thought they were at the time. But the dirt and smoke made it impossible to navigate Sunday.
The four were taken to the hospital in Yuma, and Jennifer was then transported to the NCMC Burn Unit in Greeley.
According to Pam, Jennifer’s worst injuries are the foot which lost the boot and also her right hip, where they think she might have had a cell phone in her pocket. While close to 25 percent of her body was burned, those two areas are the ones that will probably need skin grafting, said Pam.
Damon was kept overnight at the Yuma hospital and returned home Monday morning. Pam said he has second-degree burns on his right elbow, and his back is burned badly. He has an appointment this week at the burn center to assess his wounds.
Darren had burns on his right eye and his nose. He was released from the hospital Sunday evening.
Sheriff Day emphasized sheer gratitude for the volunteer firefighters and all the entities and organizations that assisted in Sunday’s fire fight.
In addition to the fire departments that were on scene as well as on standby, he said there were countless farmers, neighbors and friends who put themselves in harm’s way to help the residents in the fire’s path.
A controlled CRP burn of corn stalks and grass southeast of Haxtun Sunday morning was reportedly already out when the wind picked up that afternoon, according to Haxtun Fire Chief Steve Statz.
But a spark was all it took, and the fire ignited at about 2:05 p.m. on Phillips County Road 18 between roads 7 and 9. That location is approximately six miles south and a mile and a half east of Haxtun.
Holyoke, Fleming and Haxtun departments took pumper trucks and about five others in the Tanker Task Force (including Amherst VFD) took water trucks to fight the fire.
Several homes were evacuated and a couple were threatened, but none were lost, said Statz. One quonset caught on fire around the door, but it was extinguished immediately, Statz added.
He said they got tractors and disks out there and finally got the fire contained. Statz estimated Monday about 500-600 acres burned in an area about five miles long by a quarter of a mile wide.
Like Sheriff Day in Yuma County, Statz gave a big shout-out to the community for coming together to help wherever needed in the time of crisis. “Everyone came together to help,” said Statz with sincere appreciation.
Holyoke Enterprise March 22, 2012