Evacuation orders were issued by Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, March 12, in the wake of a series of devastating snowslides which have occurred south of Lake City along County Road 30 following in excess of a 16” of new snow which has fallen since Monday night.
The Lake Fork Valley’s worst slide occurred shortly after 6 a.m. March 12, when a massive snowslide near Sunshine Falls, 12-1/2 miles south of Lake City on County Road 30, destroyed the home and barn of Hinsdale County Sheriff Justin Casey. The Casey property is located within a half mile of Sherman and is on the flanks of 13,999’ Sunshine Peak.
Sheriff Casey was at home at the time of the snowslide, as were his daughters, Sarah, age 17, and Kristy, age 15. Following the slide which disintegrated his home, Casey was able to “swim” across the snow and debris surface to rescue his eldest daughter. He then made his way to an undamaged vehicle to radio out for assistance at 8:15 a.m..
Kristy Casey was extricated by emergency personnel who arrived at the scene. She, her father, and elder sister were taken to Gunnison Valley Hospital for evaluation. Kristy’s injuries were not as severe as initially thought, and all three members of the Casey family are now reported to be doing well.
Observers at the snowslide scene report utter devastation and term as “miraculous” the fact that anyone could have survived.
Pets and livestock at the scene, including a cow, did
not fare as well. The Caseys’ well-known dog, Remmy, who has appeared in the Turkey Trot and other area foot race events, was killed in the slide.
A Go Fund Me page has been set up as of Tuesday morning to assist the Casey family: https://www.gofundme.com/the-casey-family-lake-city-colorado. Individuals wishing to assist the family may also make donations through an account set up at Community Banks of Colorado in Lake City.
Both the Casey house, a 2,400 square foot 2-1/2 story frame home built in 2006 and adjacent 1,500 square foot frame barn were swept away by the slide, the debris field reportedly stretching across County Road 30 into the adjoining field.
A second house-damaging snowslide occurred early Wednesday morning, March 13, when a slide off the flanks of Station 11 to the east of Lake City struck the Lake City Heights home of Schuyler Denham and Carol Robinson.
According to Denham, his wife heard a “thump” toward the back of the home at 4:15 a.m. On investigation, it was found that a snowslide had broken in the back wall of the residence with such velocity that the entire ground floor had been shifted by approximately 2’.
Denham and Robinson safely left the house and later on Wednesday morning were staying at the Lake City Heights home of their friends, Greg Ochocki and Ani Barrie, while “assessing the situation” at their home.
Denham’s near neighbors, Glen and Susan Heumann, have also temporarily relocated from their home.
In response to the ongoing snow and avalanche situation, Hinsdale County Commissioners on Wednesday verbally issued a local emergency declaration. The declaration enabless the county board to meet as a group for emergency support and allows access to resources and funds to support the emergency.
Hinsdale County Emergency Operations Center has been set up in Coursey Annex overseeing the multi-pronged emergency response to what has been termed the “Sunshine Incident” at the Casey residence, as well as elevated avalanche danger resulting from ongoing snow accumulation.
Emergency organizations assisting in the response are: Hinsdale County EMS, led by new Emergency Manager Troy Mead; Lake City Fire/Rescue; Hinsdale County Road & Bridge; Hinsdale County Sheriff’s Office; and Hinsdale County Search and Rescue.
Snow conditions in terms of avalanche potential on upper County Road 30 were reviewed on Tuesday afternoon by Ben Pritchett from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Based on this assessment and concerns over continuing access for residents in the area, both County Road 30 from its juncture with Highway 149 south of town and County Road 20 up Henson Creek at the ice park were closed to vehicular traffic and evacuations commenced.
Prior to closure and continuing through Wednesday, multiple snowslides of varying sizes, together with “bank sloughs,” were reported on County Road 30.
Evacuation of up valley residents was complicated earlier on Tuesday when a large 25’-deep slide blocked County Road 30 just before the entrance to
the Bucksnort Ranch in Hammond Meadow.
This particular snowslide runs on a near-annual basis but typically blocks only a portion of the county road. This year’s slide was much larger in size, however, and not only inundated the road but continued out into Hammond Meadow. The slide destroyed a portion of the ranch’s split rail fence and
caused an upper Lake Fork Valley power outage as it collapsed five electric poles which are located a distance from the road in the ranch meadow (photo, page 11).
Electric power to upper Lake Fork residents beyond the Bucksnort Ranch remained out as of Tuesday evening, GCEA Electric lineman Brent Boyce telling SILVER WORLD that repairs to the electric line will be delayed until the County 30 road blockade is lifted. “We’d like to get back in there and start repairs,” Boyce says, “but we have absolutely no idea when they’re going to let us back in.”
Boyce also reports that electric power in the Powderhorn Valley was briefly knocked out by the snow on Tuesday morning but was soon restored.
Boyce states he is in hopes power will not be interrupted in the Lake City area, although a continuing concern is wet snow on aging cottonwood trees which in many instances overhang the power lines.
Due to heavy snowfall from roofs in and around Lake City, homeowners are urged to check wall-mounted gas vents which may become inadvertently clogged by the snow.
A total of 11 individuals in cars above the Hammond Meadow slide were rescued from a Child’s Park staging area on Tuesday afternoon by Hinsdale Sheriff’s Office and Hinsdale Search & Rescue personnel.
Authorities are urging rural Hinsdale County residents to remain in their homes and limit travel, the exception being people who live in homes which are located at the base of steep slopes.
Three occupied homes in the vicinity of Monte Queen Subdivision at Vickers Ranch — Peggy Bales, Wally Hays and Guy Corder — received a mandatory evacuation order to leave their homes late Tuesday afternoon as the result of unstable snow conditions termed as a “slide and fracture” immediately above their homes.
County Road 30 was closed at Williams Creek as of Tuesday and with continuing unstable snow and the liklihood of additional slides, the closure was extended the full length of the road from Highway 149 as of Wednesday. Also closed was a CR30 offsoot, CR33 on the east side of Lake San Cristobal. A mandatory evacuation of all residents utilizing County Roads 30 or 33 for access was ordered. Among those leaving their homes at Lake San Cristobal are Tom Brady, Ed and Becky Campbell, and Bob and Barbara Hoaglin.
Depending on weather conditions, people departing their homes earlier this week may be able to briefly return on Thursday to collect personal possessions and any remaining pets.
Evacuations took place with teams from Hinsdale Sheriff’s Office and Hinsdale Search & Rescue making multiple trips with the county’s SnoCat. Three trips were made on Tuesday, and additional trips on Wednesday assisting seven individuals to evacuate. The SnoCat has limited room, holding the driver and up to three passengers.
Additional snow activity reported on Wednesday include a snowslide blocking CR 30 at the Gladiator Mine below Lake San Cristobal, as well as smaller slides on Highway 149 between Vickers’ Ranch and Hummingbird Lane.
Within the Town of Lake City, voluntary evacuation orders were issued effective 1 p.m. Tuesday for residents at the base of Neoga Mountain on the western edge of Bluff Street due to severe avalanche conditions. In addition to the west side of Bluff Street, another designated “Area of Concern” with mandatory evacuations is the eastern edge of Lake City Heights at the base of Station 11 which is the location of the Denham and Heumann residences.
Heavy snow accummulations have occurred around Lake City Community School as a result of snow sliding off the roof; ground-level windows on all sides of the building were excavated on Wednesday to reopen emergency egress.
Plans were announced to open the Armory in Lake City as a shelter for displaced residents. Cots with blankets have been set up and a stockpile of toiletries provided; those housed in the Armory are also given vouchers for meals at Lake City area restaurants.
Lake City and the Lake Fork Valley are located
within the Northern San Juan Region as determined
by the Colorado Avalanche Center. Heavy snows the first of the week have now elevated avalanche danger in the North San Juans to Level 4-High which constitutes Code Red.
Regions to the north of Lake City, including the West Elk Mountains north of Gunnison, were rated as Level 5-Extreme last week but have now been downgraded to Level 3-Considerable in terms of avalanche danger. Also rated as Level 3-Considerable are the South San Juans including portions of the Upper Rio Grande and San Juan National Forest.
According to Colorado Avalanche Center, the North San Juan Level 4-High rating is anticipated to continue for several days before subsiding and was still in effect as of Thursday morning, March 14.
According to weather observer Phillip Virden, over a foot of snow has fallen in Lake City since Monday, cumulative March precipitation now breaking the previous all-time high for March snowfall which was set in 1906. Through March 14, Lake City has set an unofficial new record with cumulative 40” snowfall and 3.13” moisture content for the month of March. The historical average for the month is 13.5” snow and .96” moisture content.
According to Virden, the previous all-time record for March snowfall in Lake City was 35.5” which was recorded for the entire month in 1906; previous record for moisture precipitation received for the month was 2.96” in March, 2000.