10:53am

Wed June 20, 2012
Wildfires

CSU's Pingree Park: From Mountain Campus To Firefighter Spike Camp

  • KUNC's Nathan Heffel speaks with Patrick Rastall, Director of CSU's Pingree Park Mountain Campus.

Colorado State University’s Pingree Park Mountain Campus sits on the western flank of the High Park Fire. Even after official evacuation orders, Pingree Park remains active and has become a remote base or “spike” camp for nearly 200 firefighters.

The camp is smaller than the giant tent city bustling with over a thousand firefighters in Fort Collins, but still very important. Patrick Rastall is director of CSU’s Pingree Park. He's overseeing the housing and feeding of the firefighters along with 24 other staff members, mostly students, who volunteered to stay at Pingree Park as part of their CSU summer job.

"They're providing support to the firefighters, and we're very thankful [the firefighters] are here. We feed them breakfast, and then dinner after dark, between nine and eleven."

Rastall says despite being close to an active fire zone, the staff at Pingree Park feel safe.

"We do feel safe, because we're with professional firefighters. We've had some good PR help from the folks on campus staying in contact with the families of the students that are up here."

He says the campus was evacuated just over a week ago, and everyone relocated to Fort Collins. When it was decided that Pingree Park would become a firefighter camp, the 24 volunteers loaded up their gear, and took a ride back up to the campus.

"We were escorted up Hwy 14, and that was a real eye opener for all of us, because we'd not been in there. We got to see the fire damage on the hillside, and it was amazing."

In 1994, the Hourglass Fire roared through campus and destroyed 15 buildings, including the cabin that Rastall was living in at the time. He says Pingree Park now has a natural buffer zone of small lodge poles and aspens which grew up after the fire.

"It's one of our safety lines of defense."

Being so close to the fire zone, Rastall has a unique view of the changing characteristics of the blaze.

"It's art in a sense, natural art. At times it a very defused smoke line that just looks like nothing. And then, all of a sudden, there will be a concentrated burn section of where the fire is taking place. And there will be a plume of smoke that goes up like a tower in the sky -it changes by the 15 minutes."