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LPFZ Fire Hall a reality

Posted: Wednesday, Sep 5th, 2012

The completed Laramie Peak Fire Zone Hall stands ready for the public to attend the grand opening at 1 pm on Saturday, Sept. 8. (Photo/Pat Mitchell)

Because of the fire of 1965 in the mountains northwest of Wheatland, Duane and Tiny Walker saw the need for organizing people to monitor and fight fires that might erupt. The Laramie Peak Fire Zone (LPFZ) was the result. It covers 267 square miles (171,000 acres), much of which is difficult terrain. It has 39 red-carded firefighters with engines scattered up and down the east side of the mountains from Horseshoe Creek to Palmer Canyon Road.

As the work of the LPFZ became more and more an integral part of fire control, it was obvious that a centrally located building was needed in which trucks could be worked on, meetings held, supplies stored, as well as a loaded engine housed at the ready in the winter.

And now, after many years of work and planning by this group, the LPFZ Fire Hall is a reality. " I am happy to invite all our neighbors to come to the open house of our new fire hall," said LPFZ Warden Bob Shoemaker. "It will be a great asset to our community and will serve as a base for fire fighting activities in the Laramie Peak area. " The grand opening will be Saturday, September 8, 2012. There will be food and speakers and a ribbon cutting by David L. True who donated the 1.72 acres for the hall across from Walker's home on Cottonwood Park Road (in sight of Hubbard's Mountain Cupboard). Invitations to 250 guests (including Gov. Matt Mead) have been sent.

Getting funding for construction was an arduous process. Bob Shoemaker, Tiny Walker, Lynn and Kay Todd took grant writing lessons from Sheela Schermitzler (who said she couldn't retire until LPFZ got a grant for a fire hall). During these years the members of LPFZ had been running all kinds of raffles to gather funds for supplies as well as banking as much as possible for a building. Finally the Albany County Commissioners listened to the appeal and the State Land and Investment Board (SLIB) awarded LPFZ the $438,000 grant needed for the construction, 25% of that is being matched by Albany County.

Norb Olind Construction was contracted to build the hall. The concrete had been poured and the steel framing was erected but the Arapahoe Fire broke out. Work ceased as the roads and electric power were shut off. However, Norb and Tim Olind continued to work in other ways by securing a huge generator to provide power and keep the freezers and refrigerators at the Laramie Peak Boy Scout Camp (LPBSC) running. This kept $25,000 worth of food from spoiling and enabled LPFZ to use what would otherwise have spoiled when the scouts were evacuated. LPFZ was able to use the dining hall and kitchen to prepare food in the midst of the fire area for anyone in need of something in their bellies as well as provide a place to rest.

Even though interior areas of the fire could not be reached, lunches were handed out up and down the road to firefighters who were a long time on the hot, miserable job of being up close and personal with the inferno. Kay Todd, Tiny Walker, Becka Rush and Pat and Floyd Barrett (LPBSC director) worked during the entire run of the fire making sure firefighters were fed. According to the LPFZ Facebook page, "...even the cooks are red-carded."

According to Warden Shoemaker, late one night when the scout camp was threatened, about 16 engines and two fire tenders showed up from Glendo and Hartville, as well as from several rural fire districts around Wheatland. Then the wind shifted and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Rick Teter from Goshen County was instrumental in the plan for protecting the camp as he took over as incident coordinator that night.

LPFZ is made up of a myriad of members, many who live out-of-state or at the least are not full-time residents of the area. Jim O'Brien lives in the Zone but Tom Farrell teaches school in Cheyenne; both of their homes burned but they kept right on fighting fire to save homes and structures of those who hadn't lost theirs. Sarah Pflughoeft teaches piano in Cheyenne and is also one of the active firefighters.

Three full-time residences were destroyed as well as many cabins. All but two cabins at Camp Grace were destroyed. A few out-buildings were lost at Camp Paradise. True's Double Four Ranch was hit hard not only by the Cow Camp Fire which had occurred not long before, but by the Arapahoe Fire and the floods that followed. It took diligent effort by Scott Dunlap and the firefighters on the Double Four to save most of the homes and structures on the ranch. There are many stories of those who went above and beyond to save what they could in the face of erratic blazes. These are just a few of the people who value the area and help where they can.

The Arapahoe Fire was massive, ugly and out of control most of the time. It began with a lightning strike west of Wheatland on private property at the head of the Arapahoe Trail the evening of June 27. By mid-morning of June 28 it had escaped control. In just two days of violent fire behavior, the bulk of the timber on the mountain and beyond had burned. When the fire was finally considered to be out, 98,000 acres and 95 structures had been lost at a cost of over $13,000,000 to control.

Even though the new fire hall has come after-the-fact it, in addition to the Black Mountain Fire Lookout Tower manned by Kathy Fraser and the dedicated people who call the mountains west of Wheatland home, the building will still be a working monument to those who have worked so diligently to keep fire destruction at bay.

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