Thursday, April 17, 2008

CO: LODD--Ordway fire followup

The Denver Post has more information about the deaths of the two firefighters on the fire near Ordway, Colorado April 15. An excerpt:

Wildfires: Duty's fatal call
Lives of 2 fast-responding firefighters cut short at burned-out bridge
By Erin Emery and Tom McGhee
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 04/17/2008 06:03:41 AM MDT

ORDWAY — Olney Springs Fire Chief Terry DeVore and firefighter John Schwartz heard the distress call Tuesday afternoon from their neighbors in Ordway and didn't hesitate. They suited up and zoomed east on Colorado 96.

Right behind them was DeVore's father, Bruce, a fire department volunteer for 36 years. The fire was bearing down on Ordway, 11 miles away. People were in serious danger. Structures were on fire. The town of 1,200 people was under orders to evacuate.

"We were moving hard," Bruce DeVore said Wednesday. "Like everybody says, we had the hammer down and we were blowing it by."

In the dense smoke, he and the firefighters in his truck could barely see the taillights of the firetruck up ahead, but as they approached the intersection with Lane 15, Bruce DeVore told his driver to slow down. They couldn't see. The taillights ahead had vanished.

"They went out of sight," Bruce DeVore said. "We hit the heavy smoke. I told Johnny we got to slow this thing down. I don't feel right."

Johnny stopped the truck. Only 15 feet ahead, a stretch of Colorado 96 was gone. The bridge over a drainage ditch — an asphalt roadway held up by wooden railroad ties — had collapsed. Terry Devore and John Schwartz were gone, having fallen 15 feet into in a raging inferno.

Bruce DeVore joined his buddies in fighting the fire, pumping everything on board onto the flames. But he knew it was hopeless.

"It was such an inferno," he said. "It was just a ball of fire. The truck and everything was a ball of fire."

For the next four hours or so, Bruce DeVore stayed with the fire and prayed that the Lord had taken his son quickly.

"I know he did," he said. "I know the good Lord was looking over him. No pain. He was gone on impact."

Crowley County Coroner Karen Tomky said Wednesday that DeVore, 30, and Schwartz, 38, died instantly.

Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Stacey Stegman said the bridge that collapsed was a 40-foot-long, two- lane timber structure built in 1937.

"The bridge was structurally sound," she said. "It was a wooden bridge that burned."

The fire burned the bridge from underneath, and a pickup fell into the ravine. That driver escaped.

The Olney Springs Volunteer Fire Department truck carrying Terry DeVore and Schwartz was right behind the pickup.

Photo courtesy of the Pueblo Chieftan. "Workers begin the task of repairing a bridge on Colorado 96 west of Ordway, which collapsed during a massive grass fire Tuesday."

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