Highest Structural Fire
The American fire service can boast about being first in many things, but the latest achievement to come to light concerns the Colorado Springs Fire Department, whose Fire Chief, Fred Lausch, accompanied by Lester L. Williams, M.D., responded to a blaze atop famous Pikes Peak, 14,110 feet above sea level. That’s about the loftiest building blaze on record.
Two structures have been built on its summit, a stone house to serve the cog railroad, and a cinder block building with combustible interior, for the automobile toll road. The latter, about 50 x 50 feet, one and two stories, was built in 1915 and altered and enlarged in 1937. It was owned by the U.S. Forestry Service and operated by Mountain Inn, Inc. It housed a lunchroom, curio store and observation platform.
Shortly after midnight on the morning of Thursday, August 13 last, the summit house serving the automobile toll road was found to be on fire. An employe bad checked the house just before midnight and found everything in order.
The fire started in the vicinity of the automatic oil heater in the main hall, and it was thought that the heater was the cause of the fire. The blaze spread rapidly through the building and completely gutted it. Leaping tongues of flame were clearly visible in Colorado Springs, 12 airline miles distant.
There was no possibility of combatting the fire, since only small quantities of water for drinking and washing purposes are available at the top of the peak, and this meagre supply must be hauled up by tank truck.
To reach the top of the peak via the automobile road entails a drive northeast of 10.8 miles from Colorado Springs up Ute Pass to Cascade, then up the 19 mile long toll road. Colorado Springs is 6,035 feet above sea level at the city hall; the top of the Peak is 14,110 feet, so Chief Lausch and Dr. Williams drove 29.8 miles to get to the fire, and climbed 8,075 feet.
During the trip the two were in radio communication with fire headquarters through FM radio Station KAF366 and, except when shielded by the mountain, reception was excellent. When the two reached the top of the peak, the summit house roof had fallen in, and the contents were pretty well burned out. The loss has been estimated at $60,000 for the building and $25,000 for the contents, the latter not being insured because of the prohibitive cost of insurance on property at the top of a 14,110 foot mountain where there is no water or other means of fighting fire.
Chief Lausch and Dr. Williams took the same road as that followed by daring automobile drivers in the famous Pikes Beak Hill Climb held each year on Labor Day. It starts at mile-post 7, an elevation of 9,402 feet, and finishes at the top of the peak. This year’s winner, Louis Unser, set a new record when he covered the 12.42-mile course and climbed 4,708 feet in 15 minutes 15.4 seconds for an average of 49.2 miles per hour. The two fire-hunters took 50 minutes to travel 29.8 miles from the center of Colorado Springs to the top of the peak.