Fort Lupton firefighters on the front lines of historic flooding

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After city dodged worst of storm’s wrath, firefighters headed north to assist other districts

By Ben Wiebesiek

FORT LUPTON — Last week, after days of torrential rain, flood waters raged out of Boulder County and down the St. Vrain River before joining with the South Platte River.

But situated upstream from that critical juncture, Fort Lupton was spared the worst of the rising rivers. 

“I think we dodged a major portion of the flooding, especially the city of Fort Lupton,” Fort Lupton Fire Chief Phil Tiffany said. “Some of the rural areas to the west, the area between County Road 19 to the Platte River, and then from Highway 52 north to about County Road 22 ½, they took the major hit for us.”

While the city avoided the evacuations or lack of access that neighboring communities struggled with, the Fort Lupton Fire Protection District stayed busy assisting other departments in harder hit areas. “Our call responses started Wednesday about 1 a.m.,” Tiffany said. “It started with routine calls, and then we started to get calls for basements starting to flood, and generalized area flooding. So that triggered some additional responses from us, and then about 3:30 in the morning ... we started getting calls about water coming across Highway 52 between County Roads 19 and 21.”

As water started crossing rural roads overnight Wednesday into Thursday, the calls quickly escalated from the routine to the dramatic.

“We had a report of a vehicle stranded on County Road 19, in the flood water,” Tiffany said. “We went out to rescue that person and we discovered heavy flooding in the area. And we checked on the vehicle, over in the area of the spindle plant, and that vehicle was washed off the roadway, partially submerged and abandoned.”

The driver of that vehicle was able to get to safety before the vehicle became submerged, but later that morning, the FLFPD rescued a driver who wasn’t as lucky.

“Then we received a call for a vehicle that had been in an accident on Highway 52 with a lady who was stranded or trapped on top of her roof,” Tiffany said. “She was about 30 feet from the roadway. The vehicle was completely submerged; we couldn’t see anything of the vehicle. She had hit the water on Highway 52, hydroplaned, went out of control and went into a field and the vehicle was totally submerged. She actually had to climb out of her vehicle through the sun roof, and was stuck on top when crews got there.”

Firefighters used a 24-foot extension ladder to reach the driver.

“And one of our firefighters went out and was able to walk her to safety,” Tiffany said. “And from that point on, it was call-to-call – everything from flooded basements to vehicles off the road.”

Firefighters worked non-stop from 1 a.m. Thursday morning to 9 p.m. that night assisting with urgent calls from the flooding.

But stranded motorists were hardly the end of the rescue efforts for the FLFPD.

“We had a levy wash out on County Road 14 ½ that was part of the gravel pit area. And as that watered started flowing heavily into the gravel pit it ended up washing out some areas and exposed several oil and gas lines in the area,” Tiffany said. “We had two natural gas lines and three other liquid pipelines that were exposed. We did have one of those pipes rupture that belonged to Anadarko. And we had another 30-inch natural gas line that belonged to CIG El Paso that was exposed and unsupported, and we were concerned about that.”

Tiffany said the oil and gas companies responded swiftly to the flooding.

“We were able handle most of those and get the companies out to shut the lines down,” Tiffany said. “We had a great response from all the oil and gas companies in the area. They were right in the area and they got things shut down as soon as we had confirmation it was theirs.”

In the following days, as flooding became worse in neighboring communities, the FLFPD began assisting other districts.

“Then, on Friday, things seemed to move down stream after that,” Tiffany said. “We do have a swift-water rescue team and boat, and our people are trained in swift-water rescue. And we ended up sending that boat to Frederick. It was not used, but then, as you know, the situation in Evans, Milliken and Johnstown escalated quickly.”

It took FLFPD crews an hour and a half to reach those communities due to the deteriorating conditions of area roads.

“We got our rescue boat and crew of four up there, and they went to the Milliken-Johnstown area and they were able to rescue a lady, her nine-year-old daughter and two dogs,” Tiffany said. “When the rescues there were performed, they were re-deployed to Evans. And they assisted with a rescue there. And then they were redeployed to Greeley, at the 18th and Fern area, which you saw on the news was so flooded, and the Chinook helicopters were coming in to rescue people there.”

Tiffany said he was proud of the FLFPD firefighters for their tireless work in the region.

“For us, it went really smoothly,” Tiffany said. “I think what it really brings to light is that the next situation could be worse, and we learned a lot. We were able to do what we were trained to do; we monitored the situation and kept our resources available.”

Contact Ben Wiebesiek at 303-659-2522, ext. 205, or email bwiebesiek@metrowestnewspapers.com