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Cautionary Tale: When a Fire Alarm Rings, Listen!


I've been away for the past week on a vacation with my dad's family in Southwest Colorado on a remote dude ranch off of a small bridge and winding one-lane dirt road. One of the nice features of the ranch was that there was no cell phone service and extremely limited internet access.

There are about forty of us, so we basically took over and occupied the entire ranch.

A good time was being had by all when at about 9:30 pm on Tuesday night, a fire alarm started blaring out of one of the cabins, one it turned out was housing my cousin's 15 month old daughter who had been put down and was sleeping alone in her crib.

Not thinking it to be more than a failing battery, my wife and I and one of my aunts continued our conversation on the deck of our cabin, waiting for someone to go change the battery. That all changed when about 90 seconds into the alarm blaring, we heard "Fire, Fire!"

Not sure what to do, my wife stayed with our son and my aunt and I headed down to the cabin--while we did this, one of my uncles went in and grabbed my sleeping cousin's baby while two others went in to try and salvage as much as possible from the cabin. The dense smoke quickly stymied their efforts and they were pushed out and the fire engulfed more and more of the cabin.

Stumbling our way through the other cabins, we found that none (!) had fire extinguishers and there were no hydrants within 100 yards of the cabin--the one hydrant and hose that was available was too short and was unpressurized providing too little water, too late.

The fire continued to burn and started several of the surrounding trees ablaze, with the plumes of flame reaching forty to fifty feet above the ground. With the slightest bit of wind, the fire would transform from a localized fire to a forest fire, burning everything in its wake, including us and all of the cabins.

As the fire was building, the family tried to mobilize and congregate in one central place and develop contingency plans. Repeated headcounts kept coming up short, as my dad, my step mother and my step siblings could not be found or located because no cell phones were working. With no fire department in sight, the prospect of not being able to leave and of potentially leaving people behind turned our fear to terror.

What confounded our uncoordinated departure was that in leaving we could potentially clog the road down to the ranch, preventing the fire department from making its way to the burning cabin and in the process dramatically escalate the chance for the fire to flourish and devastate everything in the area.

Just as the fire seemed about to dance its way to surrounding trees and buildings, a caravan of nearly twenty local volunteer fire trucks arrived and made our decision for us: we would stay and they would get the fire under control. But there was still no word on my dad and my step-family.

Fast forward 90 minutes and the fire was out, my cousin and her daughter were being treated for smoke inhalation and irregular heartbeats. And as the parade of fire vehicles exited the ranch, in drove my dad with my step-family, having returned from their impulse decision to leave the ranch as quickly as possible.

All made it through essentially unscathed and the ranch only lost one cabin--all thanks to the local volunteer fire fighters.

Moral of the story--first, never, ever ignore any fire alarm, no matter how unlikely a fire may seem; second, make sure you have an emergency plan whenever you travel with family.


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pravda, did you ever determine what started the fire? a blessing that the baby was spared! and what about the aftermath - i heard fire/ rescue jurisdictions were thinking about shifting the financial burden to the rescued instead of using taxpayer funds.
Scary stuff, brother. Hadn't understood from your email the potential for the fire spreading perhaps out of control. Suffice to say, sorry for the ordeal and saying a quiet 'thank you' into the universe on behalf of you and yours.
Mark--thanks for putting in the good word. :)
pravda, did you ever determine what started the fire? a blessing that the baby was spared! and what about the aftermath - i heard fire/ rescue jurisdictions were thinking about shifting the financial burden to the rescued instead of using taxpayer funds.
I don't know about who bore the cost of the fire fighting--I have to think that will ultimately lie with the ranch's insurance.

The fire was caused, we think, by an explosion within one of the hot water heaters, not a grenade order explosion, but a small explosion that started the natural gas within the hot water heater ablaze. The ranch quickly reviewed and replaced the hot water heater from one of the other cabins later in the week.

Scary stuff--but we definitely emerged pretty fortunate from the entire thing! :)
Wow - scary stuff. Obviously any fire where, ultimately, no one got hurt, is a good fire. Man, it must have put off some hellacious heat to melt the siding on that vehicle. Pretty intense Sol - again, super glad you escaped with nothing more than a memorable story to tell. Must have been quite adrenaline-inducing when you realized a baby was in the cabin in question!
I have to tell you that when we were told to stay put pending the arrival of the local fire department, it definitely gave me pause and there was a big part of me that wanted to get out of there as fast as our rented Impala would take us.

I actually wasn't aware that the baby had been sleeping alone in the cabin until some time afterwards--but the whole thing was a mix of surreal and hyperreal, hard to describe really--and I don't think I've fully processed the whole experience.

Not something I'll forget anytime soon.
That's it...I'm staying home this summer.

Glad everyone is ok. Looking at those photos is just plain scary. Toss in the sleeping fifteen month old and my blood is running a bit cold. My stop by the girl's rooms on the way to bed will likely be a bit longer tonight.
Glad to hear everyone was relatively unscathed. Sounds like quite the frightening event.

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