The newly formed West Fork Volunteer Fire Department is gaining traction, thanks to donated equipment, training and a $100,000 from the owners of Dunton Hot Springs resort.
Residents of the West Fork Valley north of Dolores formed the nonprofit department last year to address the lack of nearby emergency services. A five-person board has been working on logistics, including fundraising for building a fire station.
Planners are looking to construct the station next to the Dolores County maintenance yard on the West Fork Road near Fish Creek, right before where the road turns to dirt.
Legislation is being drafted by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) that asks Congress to transfer 4 acres of San Juan National Forest land to Dolores county for the fire station.
“The station will provide fire protection for a community that currently has no fire station, preventing homeowners from being insured and putting their safety at risk,” according to a statement from Bennet’s office. “We plan to introduce the bill in the Senate this fall after incorporating feedback from the county and community.”
Longtime West Fork resident Tommy Johnson has been named chief of the new fire department. He recently graduated from the Montezuma County Fire Academy.
“It’s a real honor, and we are very grateful of the support we have had from local fire districts, our residents, Dolores County commissioners and Dunton,” Johnson said. “There is an obvious need for emergency services up here.”
Local firefighters Danny Redburn and Wyatt Jones have joined the volunteer force, he said, and several more residents are ready to get started with training.
So far, bunker gear and four vehicles have been donated, including two brush trucks from the Dove Creek Volunteer Fire Department, and a pumper truck and water truck from Dolores Volunteer Fire and Rescue.
Dunton provides fundingIn August, Dunton Hot Springs owners Christoph and Katrin Henkel donated $100,000 to the West Fork Volunteer Fire Department to help finance their main station next to the county yard. The resort is also currently building a separate firehouse just down river of Dunton Hot Springs where a brush truck will be stationed, said executive vice president Edoardo Rossi.
“It is good for our local community and will help keep the area safe,” he said. “Staff members have expressed interest in becoming volunteer firefighters.”
Dunton is 35 miles from the Dolores Fire Station, and 40 miles from the Rico Fire Station, along Colorado Highway 145.
Johnson said the fire department will serve about 86 homes in the Dolores County area of the canyon, including the Dunton Resort. It will rely on volunteers who will go through rescue and fire training. Water sources include the West Dolores River and local ponds.
The West Fork Valley — with its campgrounds, trails, fishing, and scenic driving — is becoming more and more popular, he said, prompting the need for emergency services.
“Besides responding to structure fires, we can help out when there is a fire on the forest, and respond quicker to vehicle accidents and search-and-rescue needs in the valley,” Johnson said. “A big priority is to get our station built, so we can take possession of the firetrucks and begin serving the community.”
The new fire department will also focus on education, such as creating defensible space around homes and fire safety, he said. The new fire service is also expected to help home insurance rates, which are calculated in part based on proximity to fire stations.
The new station will mostly serve the upper, Dolores County, portion of the West Fork Valley. The lower valley section is in Montezuma County and is served by the Dolores Fire Protection and Rescue Service in Dolores. However, local fire districts respond to different jurisdictions during emergencies under mutual aid agreements.
For more information, visit the West Fork Volunteer Fire Department Facebook page, or email organizers at westforkvfd@gmail