Dispatch Tapes: Crash, Exploding Propane Tank Started Fire

Firefighter: 'There was a collision with a propane tank that caused this fire'

The Fourmile Canyon Fire erupted when a vehicle collided with a propane tank Monday morning, according to radio communication moments after the fire was reported.

At a Tuesday briefing, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said authorities are investigating whether the crash and propane explosion triggered the 7,120-acre wildfire.

A breathless firefighter radioed in at about 10:01 a.m. that 20-pound propane tanks have exploded and a fire was threatening a nearby 1,000 propane tank in windy Emerson Gulch, an incident commander said on the radio.

"We have a recreational vehicle fully involved … propane tanks have (exploded). Small 20-pound propane tanks have (exploded)…immediately threatening a 1,000-gallon propane tank in a steep gulch with up-channel winds leading to Type 9 and Type 2 fuel," the incident commander radioed, describing the fuel types for stands of pine trees, grasses, shrubs and woody ground "litter."

The incident began with the firefighter reporting the fire to the Boulder County dispatch center and repeatedly pleading for fire engines. His radio transmission in the steep terrain is so garbled the dispatcher had to ask him a couple times to repeat his location.

"Fire at 100 Emerson Gulch. Trees are beginning to burn. Call Fourmile Fire Department," said the firefighter using the call sign "4672."

Seventy-four seconds later at 10:03 a.m., the dispatcher issues the first call for fire agencies to respond.

"Fourmile Fire, Boulder County Emergency Services … US Forest Service, Colorado Forest Service and Boulder Fire Wildland Service respond to 7100 Fourmile Canyon Drive...Emerson Gulch for trees that are caught on fire," the dispatcher said.

Nearly 5 minutes later, the dispatcher tells responding agencies that an Emerson Gulch Road resident is reporting "they can see flame 10 feet off the ground, heading toward the (reporting party's) location."

The original firefighter grows impatient with the rising flames. Eight minutes after his initial call, he urgently repeats the need for fire crews.

"I have a fully involved fire. I have trees torching. It's all at the base of Emerson Gulch. Get Gold Hill Fire out now," the firefighter radios.

"Copy," the dispatcher replies, "Gold Hill Fire's been sent."

"We need (unintelligible) immediately," the firefighter stresses.

A minute later, the firefighter radios a garbled message about a "propane tank" and urges "now!"

"Your broken," the dispatcher responds. "Confirming you had a propane tank?"

Another firefighter radios: "There was a collision with a propane tank that caused this fire."

About 25 minutes after the initial report, the incident commander issues the update on the fully ablaze RV and smaller, barbecue-size propane tanks exploding and threatening the 1,000-gallon tank.

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