Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Chairlift fire deemed an accident

Investigators say blaze started in snowmaking equipment


By ERIC AVISSAR
Express Staff Writer

AT&T technicians, from left to right, Gabe Hoffman, Tom Perkins and Steve Sobien work Saturday to install a temporary cell tower for AT&T in the Warm Springs area of Ketchum. Photo by Roland Lane

    The Ketchum Fire Department has completed its investigation of the fire that destroyed the upper station of the Flying Squirrel chairlift on Bald Mountain, concluding that a malfunction in a snowmaking compressor oil cooler caused the Feb. 1 blaze.
    The fire—which forced the temporary closure of some ski runs on Bald Mountain—burned the lift station, some snowmaking equipment and a small communications facility.
     According to a news release from the Ketchum Fire Department, “The subsequent release of a large quantity of compressor oil intensified the fire, resulting in catastrophic structural failure of the snowmaking portion of the east end of the building. The ensuing wind-driven fire eventually destroyed the top lift terminal of the Flying Squirrel ski lift and communications building at the west end of the structure.”


We have a temporary solution in place and will continue to work with the ski resort on a more permanent solution.”
Meagan Dorsch
Verizon Wireless spokesperson


     The loss of the communications building caused a temporary loss of cell-phone service in the Warm Springs area of Ketchum and areas farther to the north. Two temporary cell towers have been built approximately 100 yards west of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation building across from Warm Springs Creek.
    AT&T technician Gabe Hoffman said that due to snow and location of the cell tower that burned, construction on a permanent fixture cannot begin until this summer. Verizon Public Relations Senior Consultant Meagan Dorsch released this statement on behalf of the company.
    “Verizon is committed to providing service to our customers, including public safety and first responders,” Dorsch said. “We have a temporary solution in place and will continue to work with the ski resort on a more permanent solution.”
    Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle and an independent expert fire investigator completed the investigation on Thursday, Feb. 6.
    “The investigation involved many hours of complicated analysis of damaged equipment and debris at the fire scene,” Elle said.
    The Flying Squirrel fixed-grip double chairlift runs the length of the Picabo’s Street ski run on the Warm Springs side of the mountain to an elevation of 8,200 feet, though it has not been in regular operation for many years.
    Sun Valley Co. spokesman Jack Sibbach said the company does not expect the damage to the snowmaking facility to have a significant impact on the mountain staff’s ability to make snow on most of Bald Mountain. The fire did not cause any injuries, and there have been no estimates made on the financial damages of the blaze.
    No further investigation of the site is anticipated, as the fire has been officially ruled as accidental.




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