Loose wheel likely caused Basalt fire

A wildfire that flared up near homes in Aspen Junction and sparked an evacuation of parts of Basalt on Friday was likely caused when a pickup lost a wheel, investigators said Monday.

A blue Toyota pickup was headed downvalley when the mishap occurred, according to Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott. The fire was probably caused by sparks that flew when the undercarriage scraped the pavement or by a hot lug nut, Knott said.

A Colorado State Patrol trooper spotted a person rolling the wheel back to the truck at around 2 p.m. There was no fire visible at that time, Knott said, citing the trooper’s information.

Midvalley resident Andy Modell said he was heading upvalley close to 2 p.m. when he noticed a man beating flames with a rug. Modell believes he was among the first people to call 911 to report the fire.

He turned off of Highway 82 onto Two Rivers Road and said he was surprised by what he perceived to be a slow response by firefighters. He called 10 minutes after his initial call, he said, and the emergency dispatcher assured him firefighters were on the way.

Basalt Deputy Fire Chief Pete Bradshaw said the Fire Department received a call at 2:02 p.m. of a wildfire “about the size of a garage” near the intersection of Highway 82 and Original Road.

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Three paid personnel were at the firehouse in El Jebel and brought the brush truck and an ambulance, Bradshaw said. The deputy fire chief from Snowmass Village, who was in the vicinity at the time, joined them. Those firefighters were on the scene within 10 minutes of the report.

The brush truck is a highly maneuverable vehicle that provides numerous tools for firefighters, including limited water. They started fighting the fire from the highway, on the west end of the blaze. That effort wasn’t visible from Modell’s vantage point.

A fire engine staffed by volunteer firefighters mobilized and arrived on the scene at about 2:25 p.m., according to witnesses.

Prior to that engine arriving, Modell said he called 911 a third time and expressed his concern that there wasn’t a quicker, more aggressive response as he watched the flames grow below the hillside where there are multiple homes in the Aspen Junction subdivision.

“I thought the homes were potentially in danger,” he said. At the time he departed, the Basalt engine hadn’t arrived.

The flames were doused soon after the engine arrived at 2:25 p.m. No structures were damaged. Bradshaw said the firefighting…

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