Trees set ablaze at town’s recycling center

After three calls to the same scene — a pile of dead discarded Christmas trees on South 8th Street near South Pagosa Park — 14 Pagosa Fire Protection District firefighters decided they’d had enough, and instead of immediately extinguishing the blaze, they grabbed shovels and rakes, stacked up the fuels and encouraged the pile to burn.

“There was a pretty good-sized fire going when we got there. But, after three calls, I made a command decision. We can’t keep going out there to put it out, so instead of putting it out, we raked it up and let it burn,” said firefighter Kelly Robertson.

Robertson and her fellow firefighters, along with two deputies from the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Department and one officer from the town police department, were on scene about 10:30 p.m. The firefighters stayed until after midnight.

Robertson said after assessing scene safety and the supply of firefighters and equipment, including a command vehicle and engine, she determined it was time to rid the neighborhood of a public health and safety hazard.

“It made no sense to keep on babysitting. It took us awhile with shovels and everything, and after it had burned down, we dumped a truckload of water on it,” Robertson said.

Although no formal investigation has been conducted, Robertson said it appears an accelerant was used in the most recent blaze, and firefighter and law enforcement officials suspect the blazes were set intentionally each time.

Town of Pagosa Springs Police Chief Jim Saunders said no arrests have been made.

The trees were dumped at the site as part of a town-sponsored Christmas tree recycling program.

According to Robertson, although some of the trees had been mulched according to the program, a large pile of dry and extremely flammable dead trees remained.

After the April 7 incident, fire district staff asked the town to remove the mulch in order to prevent further incidents.

Roberts said the town complied with the request the same day.