Firefighters near control of hillside blaze off C-470

JEFFERSON COUNTY – Firefighters hope to completely contain a fire on a Dakota Ridge hillside by dark, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Wednesday.

“We feel very confident we are going to be at 100 percent contained by nightfall,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer,

When the day started, nearly 30 firefighters set out to battle the persistent blaze, which was 60 percent contained as the day broke across the steep brush and grass covered hillside. The fire had scorched about 110 acres, according to estimates.

The fire broke out about 2 p.m. Monday, sending flames racing up the slope immediately west of C-470 and about half a mile south of the Morrison Road exit.

By Wednesday afternoon, weary firefighters were watching the sky for signs of rain, hoping for relief from the afternoon heat and increasing humidity.

The steep, rocky slope of the ridge presented firefighters with the tough task of fighting a wind-driven fire as it raced through difficult terrain, forcing fire crews to walk and climb their way to the flames from a staging area off Morrison Road, more than a half-mile from the flames.

“It’s out there kind of in ‘no-man’s land’ and it’s a real slow process,” Techmeyer said. Because of loose rocks and soil, the crews “have to be real careful where they’re stepping,” he added.

During the initial hours of the fire, traffic backed up for miles after deputies closed the stretch of the major highway, and vehicles were stuck in a miles-long traffic jam that eventually stretched back to Interstate 70, backing up eastbound along that highway, as well.

Closing the busy highway allowed firefighting equipment to ferry water to the base of the slope, where it was off-loaded to feed fire hoses stretching up the hillside.

About 60 firefighters from West Metro Fire Rescue District, Inter-Canyon, Golden, Fairmont and Littleton fire departments battled the blaze for hours as it raced ahead of firefighters late Monday before rising humidity and a dose of rainfall gave fire crews a hand late in the evening.

West Metro crews monitored the fire through the night and were joined Tuesday morning by Department of Corrections fire crews from the Buena Vista correctional facility to continue fighting the blaze, which took off again as temperatures began to rise and humidity levels dropped.

The Colorado Forest Service was on-scene again Wednesday as firefighters pushed for full containment.

“The Colorado state Forest Service did an outstanding job giving these guys support with their engines,” Techmeyer said.

Despite the rugged terrain, there were no injuries among the fire crews, but West Metro paramedics also remained at the scene in case they are needed. No structures were in the path of the fire, although flames came within about 200 feet of a home when it first broke out Monday afternoon. But West Metro firefighters moved in to establish a perimeter around the house and kept the flames at bay, Techmeyer said.

Recent afternoon showers delivered by the monsoon season have dampened some fuels, but others, including the grasses on Dakota Ridge remain vulnerable.

“One of the things the firefighters said … is that (Monday) when they woke up they would never had bet that there was going to be a grass fire because the humidity was high,” said Micki Trost, West Metro spokeswoman.

“But when you look at those grasses, they’re knee-high and brown. That means they are all cured out, that they are really dry,” Trost added.

And the larger fuels, mostly pinion and junipers, haven’t been thoroughly dampened by the recent rain.

“Even though we’re getting short rainstorms everyday, it’s not enough to actually get moisture into them. We need some really long rainstorms,” Trost added.

The cause of the fire has not been pinpointed, but lightning and a cigarette tossed from a passing vehicle are among the prime suspects.

Trost said residents should not be lulled into carelessness because of the summer showers.

“ We always need to be careful and keep an eye on what’s around us, make sure that we are putting things where they need to be, so they are not causing fires out in the community,” Trost said.

Neighbors submit petitions opposing Jeffco Health site rezoning

LAKEWOOD – Neighbors of the Jeffco Health Department campus turned over petitions with nearly 3,000 signatures calling for a city-wide vote challenging a City Council decision to rezone the nearly 18-acre property to accommodate commercial and retail development.

Council in late April voted 7-3 to rezone the parcel, despite concerns from nearby residents that the plan – which would allow up to 150,000 square feet of retail space on the parcel – is too vague to ensure their quiet, rural neighborhoods would remain safe and secure.

“On April 26th, the mayor and City Council passed an ordinance that seems to us to have gone against what the citizens of Lakewood wanted and the referendum seems to be the only avenue left to us at this point,” said Cathy Kentner, one of the leaders of the petition drive.

Kentner’s quiet Bonvue neighborhood is immediately east and north of the county-owned parcel and many of its residents turned out to oppose the rezoning during Council’s public hearing on the rezoning request.

The group delivered petitions containing 2,975 signatures, at least 100 more than needed to meet the required 3 percent of Lakewood voters who cast votes in the last mayoral election. The drive fell short of the 1,000-signature cushion Kentner and her neighbors wanted, but Kenter said she is impressed with the dedication of her neighbors.

One thing I am really proud of is what a grassroots effort can accomplish in a short time,” Kentner said. “They did an awesome job.”

The hoped-for cushion would provide some insurance for the group in case City Clerk Margy Greer invalidates enough signatures to render the petition moot. Greer must verify the signatures submitted are those of active Lakewood voters.

The effort got off the ground only three weeks before Friday’s deadline. The petition drive was cut short by two days because the actual deadline fell on Sunday and the city requires petitions be returned on the last day city offices are open before the deadline.

Had it not been for that quirk, Kentner said, the petitioners would have compiled a much larger cushion.

But she is confident the signatures will stand because “we were out talking to relatives and friends and neighbors,” making it more likely those signing are registered to vote in the city.

If the rezoning is not overturned, it would permit supermarkets, gas stations, banks and financial institutions, fast food outlets, office buildings, convenience stores and low-power telecommunications facilities at the site.

The list of uses is lengthy because the county’s rezoning application was submitted without a definite buyer in mind, resulting in few specifics the neighborhood can rely on.

Jeffco Commissioner Kevin McCasky said the county intends to find developers with potential tenants that would maximize the sales- and property-tax income potential of the high profile site at one of the city’s busiest intersections.

“Our focus is economic development,” when disposing of county properties, McCasky said.

The nebulous nature of the parcel’s future worries residents who live near the site at West Alameda Ave. and Kipling Street, one of the city’s busiest intersections. The issues were aired at the April 26 Council meeting in which the rezoning was approved.

“The proposed (plan) is too vague and is not well-formed,” Terry Ferguson, who lives near the parcel, saying the lack of specifics heightens neighbors’ concerns about traffic, noise and potential “impacts on neighborhoods, parks and schools.”

The potential traffic impacts of a major shopping center at the location also drew a number of comments from the plan’s opponents, who told Council the traffic study submitted by the county and endorsed by City Hall staff is inadequate and contradicts similar studies done by the city.

Dr. Robert Dickinson backed up that claim by displaying the differing versions of traffic figures indicating conflicting estimates of traffic on Kipling and on Alameda.

An earlier city traffic analysis indicates expected traffic volumes of 45,000 cars a day on Kipling and 27,900 cars a day on Alameda. But the Traffic Impact Analysis presented for the county’s rezoning case, Dickinson pointed out, claims 8,000 fewer cars travel Kipling each day and 2,600 fewer on Alameda.

“How can these significantly different traffic reports be explained,” Dickinson asked. “The only answer I can see is that the TIA is fundamentally flawed.”

And Josh Finkler said some aspects of the proposed access and exit routes could lead to “lane-hopping” and, especially at the intersection of the Alameda Frontage Road and Garrison Street, violations of Colorado’s traffic codes.

Finkler, who was instrumental in organizing the opposition to the rezoning request, said the neighborhoods will continue the fight, but did not elaborate.

A spokesman for the city’s Public Works Department said the figures reflect a decrease in overall traffic over the past few years.

Other residents said the county’s plan is not compatible with the neighborhood and would pose a safety risk for kids walking or driving to nearby schools.

The county asked Council to rezone the property at 260 S. Kipling, changing the existing 1-R large lot residential designation to Planned Unit Development (PUD). The Jeffco health agency has operated at the site under special-use permits approved by the city in 1974 and 1988, but has occupied the site since the mid-60s, before Lakewood was incorporated. The current zoning carried over from a similar large-lot residential zoning category originally bestowed by Jeffco.

The county is looking at the increasing cost to maintain a number of properties with an eye toward consolidating some of the facilities. Money from the sale of the Kipling Street acreage will go into the county’s General Fund and could be used to meet much of that maintenance burden, McCasky said.

Kentner and her neighbors, meanwhile, will be lobbying voters.

“It is important that their voice can honestly be heard and they have a say in the land-use of their neighborhoods,” she said.

CCU’s satellite classrooms encourage student’s dream

Camelita Martinez was juggling a job and a family with two small kids in Grand Junction, and worryed that her longtime dream of becoming a nurse was going nowhere. Then the 25-year-old bookkeeper got word that Colorado Christian University was starting a new Bachelor of Science in Nursing program specifically for working adults. She could take some of her nursing courses in a satellite classroom in Grand Junction and take others online, right at home.

”I was thrilled,” she said. “I told CCU that this is going to change people’s lives. It’s perfect for me.”

Although CCU’s main campus is in Lakewood, it will offer satellite classrooms across the state beginning and more than two dozen hospitals and other facilities for hands-on, clinical experience beginning this fall.

In Grand Junction, Martinez will be take the elevator to the CCU branch above a bank—far easier than waiting up to two years for a spot in nursing programs at Mesa State College or Delta/Montrose Technical College.

For Martinez, the program at Delta has the added problem of being 80 miles away. “With a job and a family,” Martinez says, “that just wasn’t do-able for me.”

Before learning of the innovative CCU program, she had been discouraged, yet she never lost her passion for nursing. Martinez, who wants to be a labor and delivery nurse, learned first-hand the importance of nurses when she and her husband Jake, her high school sweetheart, had their kids, Chyen, now 7, and Diego, 3.

When she arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital for Chyen’s birth, Martinez started hyperventilating and passed out. She’ll never forget the two nurses who helped bring her around.

“They didn’t look down on me; they took the time to explain what was happening,” she said. “They helped me to see: ‘OK, I’m not dying!’ They walked me through everything. To think that strangers will take such good care of you—that’s what made me want to be a nurse.”

Now that she can begin her nursing program at CCU, she is spreading the word to friends who also had to put their nursing dreams aside because of long waiting lists and travel times, jobs, and families.

Perhaps no one’s more excited than 7-year-old Chyen, who likes telling people that nurses help people who are sick, and her mom is going to be one someday.

Until now, Martinez would add, “Yeah, someday.”

Now, she can say: “Someday soon.”

School District panel whittles down facilities options

JCSCHOOLSign

JEFFERSON COUNTY – The latest list of possible Jeffco School District building-use changes or possible outright school closures includes a handful of local options that could save the district millions a year, but at a potential cost of convenience for school kids and their parents.

A task force of school district officials and community members are examining the use of the district’s facilities and some properties could wind up on the chopping block, including Lakewood’s Carmody Middle School.

Other possibilities that would affect schools in Lakewood are four different options: moving all 6th graders in the Alameda High School area to O’Connell Middle School; closing O’Connell, but apparently not selling the school – and moving it’s 7th and 8th grade students to Alameda High; moving Devinney Elementary School’s 6th Grade students to Dunstan Middle School; and distributing Carmody Middle School students to Creighton, Dunstan and O’Connell middle schools and closing and selling Carmody.

The district, at present, is financially healthy with some $160 million in reserves, but those reserves were built with the understanding “that we would have to spend them down” eventually, said Dr. Cindy Stevenson, district superintendent.

Last spring, the district decided to take a look at the long-term decisions, some of them difficult ones, to keep the schools operating on a sound financial footing.

“One of the issues that came up was: Do we need all the buildings that we have, are we using our buildings in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Stevenson said.

To find the answer, the district appointed the 30-member task force comprised of school district staff and citizens. They have been working since March and have culled a list of 45 options involving schools across the district down to 30 possible changes after a series of meetings to gather public input.

The School Board originally had hoped to consider the issue at a January meeting, but that could be delayed, according to School District sources..

The potential savings on the table could vary from a few thousand dollars to more than million a year, depending on which options the school board chooses when they consider the recommendations, Stevenson said.

“It has to do with A: being efficient and using every dollar we can. And B: Do we need all our facilities,” she said.

The remaining options do not target 30 specific schools or properties, instead they involve combinations of options and many of the properties under scrutiny each involve various options from closing and selling schools to transferring students so temporary buildings could be eliminated.

For instance, Option 1A, which proposes moving 6th graders from Deane, Kendrick Lakes, Lasley, Patterson and Stein elementary schools to O’Connell would save the district an estimated $81,900 a year, but would carry a one-time cost of $130,000, according to School District estimates.

Option 1B – moving 7th and 8th grades from O’Connell, sending them to Alameda High and closing O’Connel – could save the district $1.3 million a year, but at a one-time cost of about $115,000 and ongoing costs of $52,200 a year, according to estimates.

But under Option 17B – dispersing Carmody Middle School students to other middle schools and selling Carmody, the district would save just more than $1 million a year and reap the sale price of the school, which has not been estimated. The closing would carry an estimated one-time cost of $82,367 and another $158,000 in on-going annual expenses.

That compares with the estimated savings estimate of $25,815 annually under Option 17A, moving Devinney 6th graders to Dunstan. The district estimates that move would carry a single cost: a one-time expenditure of $52,500.

Enrollment is one of six criteria the task force used to compile their list of options. They also considered each school’s academic achievement, the conditions of each building, the capacity use of each school, how many students are enrolled in each school as a “school of choice” and operating costs of each property.

“If you close a school, you have to look at whether you save it or you keep it,” Stevenson said. The ones that look most likely to be closed probably would be sold,

“and a variety of people want to buy school buildings,” she added. But other properties “wouldn’t be very logical to put on sale because they are not in a place where that people are going to develop.”

The task force also looked at the district’s vacant land inventory, but found that most of those properties are encumbered by agreements with cities or the county that restrict their disposal.

“The city might own a big chunk of the land as a park, so you really can’t sell most of them,” Stevenson said. “A lot of the land we own, we don’t really own it. When you get land from a developer, frequently – if you don’t buy it outright and they dedicate that land – and if you don’t build a school on it in a certain number of years, the land reverts to the city or county.”

Written comments on the proposals can be submitted by e-mail at facilities@jeffco.k-12.co.us through Dec. 10 via an on-line form.

Weather clogs roads, closes schools and businesses

LAKEWOOD – The city began digging out from as much as 21 inches of snow Thursday as a slow-moving storm lingered through mid-afternoon on its slow move eastward.

The snow, slush and poor visibility clogged the morning rush for a second day and extended the season’s first weather related school closure in Jeffco to two days. City and county offices opened late and a number of local businesses remained closed.

Red Rocks Community College also is closed and students were urged to check with the school before heading out to class Friday. The weather also caused the postponement of a number of athletic events, including the first round of Boys Varsity soccer playoffs.

Jefferson County also canceled the Citizen Input Meeting scheduled for Thursday night at Belmar Library in Lakewood. Check http://www.jeffco.us for the latest information on rescheduling the meeting.

The National Weather Service expected snow to continue falling across the metro area into the night, but forecasters said the heaviest amounts will hit the southern and eastern suburbs as the storm moves eastward over the Plains. Blizzard conditions are expected in eastern Colorado tonight and Interstate 70 was closed from the metro area to the Kansas state line due to blowing and drifting snow as well as icy road conditions. A number of other highways in eastern Colorado also were closed, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Northbound lanes of Interstate 25 remained closed from Wellington to the Wyoming state line because of treacherous driving conditions.

Lakewood city streets varied from wet to snow-packed and slushy with patches of ice at some intersections.

City crews kept abreast of the storm, hitting major streets first, then moving into neighborhoods.

“It’s gone pretty well” Jay Hutchison, Lakewood’s Public Works director, said Thursday afternoon. “We did bring in some contract motor-graders and, through the course of last night and this morning, we were able to get to all of the residential streets as well as the priority routes.”

Some of the less-traveled residential streets were covered again as snow fell throughout the day, but city crews had turned their attention back to keeping the priority routes open and prepared for what is expected to be an icy Friday morning commute.

“There is quite a bit of moisture in this snow and, as temperatures drop overnight, I’m sure there are going to be areas that get icy,” Hutchison said. “But, unless things turn around, I think we are in pretty good shape.”

Swine flu cases continue dropping but seasonal flu looms

LAKEWOOD – Swine flu infection rates are dropping sharply in Lakewood, Jefferson County and the state as a whole, but whether it is well past its peak or just in a temporary decline is unclear.

What is clear is that the worst of the annual return of seasonal flu is looming and will be with us until spring, a spokeswoman for the Jeffco Department of Health said Friday.

“With the H1N1, we just don’t know,” said Kodi Bryant. “We don’t know what to expect from it we can’t count it out just yet, even though we are seeing a lull with it. We can’t say that it’s going away because this is the first time we have ever had it.”

Figures for the week of Nov. 28, show the rate of swine flu infection in Jeffco is at it’s lowest point since late August. Only one influenza case required hospitalization in the county that week and that patient had the seasonal flu, not H1N1, according to information from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

Since the Colorado Department of Public Health began tracking flu cases in the state during the summer, 180 Jefferson County residents have required hospital care because of confirmed flu cases. Of those, 131 patients had swine flu. The remaining patients were suffering from seasonal flu. Fifty-six people – nine children and 47 adults – have died from the flu statewide since the end of August.

The state agency’s figures show that 1,888 flu victims have been hospitalized for treatment of the flu in that period.

While only time will tell whether this strain of swine flu will return in full force, supplies of vaccine are growing as is the list of priority recipients who already have been vaccinated against the pandemic disease that began its march across the globe last summer.

The county health agency conducted its first round of public vaccination clinics Nov. 21. Another round is planned Saturday, Dec. 12 and a third date – Dec. 19 – has been added to the schedule, reflecting the increasing availability of the H1N1 vaccine.

The Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 swine flu vaccination clinics, which are coordinated by the county health agency and the Visiting Nurse Association, will be at Alameda High School: 1255 South Wadsworth Boulevard, Lakewood, 9 a.m. – 3: p.m.; Arvada High School: 7951 W. 65th Ave., Arvada, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Columbine High School: 6201 South Pierce St., Littleton, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.; and Evergreen High School: 29300 Buffalo Park Road., Evergreen, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

As of Friday, the scheduled clinics remain open only to people in high priority groups – children between 6 months and 24 years old, adults 25 years to 64 years of age with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, families and caretakers of children under 6 months of age and health-care workers.

But because many of those in the priority groups were vaccinated in the first round of Jeffco vaccination clinics and the increasing delivery of vaccine, the county is considering opening the scheduled clinics to the general public, Bryant said.

Three Colorado counties – El Paso, Pueblo and Weld – already have widened access to their stocks of swine flu vaccine.

“I would say it’s more likely to happen than not. We are waiting to open that to the general public until we get an official OK from the state,” Bryant said. “The state is looking into that and they told us we would have an answer to us by Monday.”

Meanwhile, health agencies are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Seasonal (flu) hasn’t really hit us yet, so we are expecting an upturn and, of course, that can last until May,” Bryant said.

Jeffco Health’s stocks of seasonal flu vaccine have been depleted and Bryant suggests that folks contact the Visiting Nurse Association for information on locating those vaccinations.

“They have seasonal vaccine available. They are the only ones that I know of at this point, but we are telling people to go to the Immunize Colorado web site to check,” Bryant said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as in short supply … there are a lot of people who got their (seasonal) vaccinations early.”

Little withdraws from Ward 4 Council race

LAKEWOOD – The race for City Council’s Ward 4 seat became a bit less crowded late Monday when Randy Little announced he is withdrawing.

Little’s decision to leave the race cuts the field to two candidates – Dave Wiechman and Amy Attwood – in the campaign for the seat now held by Doug Anderson, who decided not to seek a second term.

Little said his business, RKL Consulting Group, is an advertising medium that works with local businesses and residents. That, he said, poses an ethical problem.

“The consultants I have talked to and the group I have talked to have recommended that I step down as a candidate for City Council,” Little said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

He encouraged other candidates with similar interests to do so, as well.

“I don’t think we should use people’s influences in different areas like that to run for office,” Little said. He did not identify the candidates or the issues he was referring to.

Wiechman said Little’s decision to leave the race “is very positive news for my campaign” because their political positions are similar. Wiechman said that similarity could have split the Ward 4 vote.

“This allows me to reframe the debate,” Wiechman said Tuesday. “Instead of a matter of the who’s the best leader, now we can put in terms of ‘Do you want a leader instead of a politician.’”

Attwood said Little’s exit from the race would not impact her campaign.

“I’ve always said I’m running not against someone, I’m running for what’s best for Lakewood,” Attwood said. “The voters will choose who best represents them.”

Attwood said Little’s decision to leave the race “demonstrates a high regard for ethical conduct. I respect his interest in and contribution to Lakewood and its businesses.”

Little, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, is a 28-year Lakewood resident and served on the city’s Commission for an Inclusive Community, including a stint as its chairman. He also is a member of a number of Lakewood business and professional agencies.

Little’s campaign focused on three main issues: better communication between City Hall and Lakewood’s citizens, responsible growth and transparency.

“Communication, in my opinion, is poor,” Little said in an interview with the Edge earlier this year.

“They (City Hall) communicate, but timely manner is of the essence. They tend to tell people about things two or three days before they actually vote on them,” he said. “I think we need a better communication scenario where it gets out there as soon as this stuff is brought up.”

Little also called for easier public access to the city’s financial records, including City Hall’s expense account ledger and checkbook.

Little attended Boulder Valley Schools and worked in the dairy and food industry for 20 years. After retiring from the dairy business in 1990, he launched a computer and video business, RKL Consulting Group. He also designs web pages and has developed two local business sites, MyLakewoodGateway and MyLakewoodCard.

He and his wife Kathy have three grown children, two of them full-time college students.

Kids romp, play and learn at Family Fire Muster

LAKEWOOD – Big red fire trucks and beaming young faces seem to go together and there were plenty of both at Saturday’s West Metro Fire/Rescue District’s Family Fire Muster.

The event at Red Rocks Community College drew hundreds of families for the fun, but the event has a serious side, as well.

“We want the families to come out, be together, have the chance to experience a bunches of fun venue and a safe venue, but really get to see the public safety components we have Jefferson County,” said West Metro Fire Chief Douglas McBee.

The Muster, which offers kids a chance to play while learning safety, marked its 15th year Saturday.

The event is filled with activities that not only are fun, but teach kids fire-safety and give them a chance to work with firefighters as they train fire hoses on target “fires,” maneuver tricycles through an obstacle course, toss “life-saver” rings to ducks in a wading pool and sit in a kid-size replica fire truck brought over by the Wheat Ridge Fire Department.

They also climbed aboard the real thing: fire trucks, ladder trucks, ambulances and water rescue craft, practiced escaping from through low-hanging “smoke” simulated by low-hanging tarps, fleeing through the window of an inflatable house and making a 9-11 call by talking to a real emergency operator.

“They get a chance to meet firefighters and other emergency responders in a real positive light here trying to help them as opposed to just seeing them at their house” during an emergency, McBee said. “It’s not just family-friendly, but pro-educational.”

More than 20 emergency, health, and safety organizations were on hand at the muster.

The muster began in 1994 when what then was the Lakewood-Bancroft Fire Authority, recognizing the fascination big red fire trucks spark in kids of all ages, rolled its fire-fighting equipment and other emergency vehicles to the parking lot of Carmody Recreation Center. Several hundred people showed up to get a closer look at the vehicles and visit with fire fighters.

The Fire Authority later became West Metro, and the Muster continued, and in 1997 turned it’s focus to offering families a free, fun and informative event to kick off their summer. The Muster unfolds the second Saturday of June each year.