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Extreme snow isolates CO residents

30-foot drifts, weather extremes, make it difficult to reach residents

BY BOND BRUNGARD | Fairplay, CO | February 14, 2008

"The problem we are having this year is that its happening all at the same time and for about three weeks straight"

—Mike Roll, Park County

Residents in Park County Colorado were again bracing for more cold temperatures, high winds and snow Thursday, Feb. 14, a weather pattern which has frequently bombarded the region since Christmas.

About 100 residents living near the towns of Fairplay, Como, Jefferson and Hartsel have been stranded in their homes for about a week. Mike Roll, the public information officer in Park County and the chief of the North-West Fire Protection District, said emergency responders have been doing their best to reach these people who live as close as three to five miles from a town or up to 50 miles away on a ranch.

“They are calling us, and we’re using snowmobiles and snow cats to get to them,” he said.

Park County, about 10,000 feet above sea level, is located in central Colorado about 90 minutes west of Denver, about 90 minutes south of Vail and about 30 minutes from Breckenridge.

Roll said residents are used to the high winds, snow and very cold temperatures but not of this consistent magnitude during the last month.

“The problem we are having this year is that it’s happening all at the same time and for about three weeks straight,” he said. “We’re not getting a break.”

To help clear the snow drifts, Pueblo, Baca, Arapahoe, Clear Creek and Jefferson counties have sent equipment and manpower to keep the roads open.

The Mile High chapter of the American Red Cross, based in Denver, is operating a shelter at the Park County Fairgrounds in Fairplay to house the extra manpower, which consists of about 80 people.

“We probably have about three volunteers who stay with them each night,” said Nicole Adair, a spokesperson the Mile High Chapter.

Adair said the chapter is also getting food provided by the Salvation Army chapter in Denver to the shelter.

“We’re making sure it’s getting delivered,” she said.

Non-violent inmates from the Colorado Department of Corrections, certified as equipment operators, have also been enlisted to help with the snow removal efforts.

The current extreme weather pattern started around Thanksgiving and then took a break until Christmas. Since then, said Roll, Park County has been pounded by snow about every other day, ranging from 2-3 inches and up 12-16 inches per storm. Winds range from 20-60 mph with some whipping as fast as 110 mph. And wind chills, said Roll, have been recorded as low as 50 below zero.

“The ground has literally been scoured by the wind,” he said. “The snow has been pushed onto the roadways in drifts. It’s taking 30 minutes to a make a 5-10 minute drive.”

And the very cold temperatures and high winds are making it very difficult to remove the snow.

“When it drifts,” said Roll, “it binds like concrete.”

And that has forced Roll and others to find other ways to remove the snow from their homes. Roll owns a 1967 International Scout with a snowplow, but the vehicle has been useless in these extreme conditions. So Roll had to hire a front end loader to remove a 30-foot drift from his driveway.

Roll can get home, but some of his fellow firefighters, both paid and volunteer, have been stranded for the last eight days from their families because of the impassible roadways.

“The roads are cemented in,” he said. “They have no access.”

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