Organized in 1897 to promote Community Service and Philanthropy in Ouray County, Colorado.

Marian Austin

The Lady Fights Fires!  January 20, 2015

Story by Kathryn R. Burke

MarianAustinLog Hill Firefighter, Marian Austin retired from the Army at the end of June of 2001. Her last assignment had been at the Pentagon, “Where I worked was next to section that got hit on 9-11,” she says. “I wanted to help.” And that’s what got her thinking about community service.

When she and her husband, Tom, also retired Army, moved here in 2003, they both joined the Log Hill Volunteer Fire Department (LHVFD). Tom is now Assistant Fire Chief. They’ve since gone through a lot of training and earned their “Red Card” which designates them as trained wildfire fighters.

Speaking about the Log Hill Volunteers, Marian notes: “We’re a bit older, we reflect the population up here. Most of us are doing this after retirement. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do it. Right now, I’m in good physical condition, and I enjoy it. “

McKenzieButte2

Marian Austin and fellow LHVFD firefighter, Steve Wolff.

Marian’s most memorable wildland fire, and the biggest she helped fight, was her first — the Tappan fire in 2004. She and her husband had just completed training and obtained their ‘Red Cards’ designating them as certified Wildland Fire Fighters. They passed tests in fire fighting and physical fitness. “If you show up for a wildland fire on federal lands and don’t have a Red Card, the Feds (Federal Fire Fighters) will remove you,” she explains.

But she got to stay, and it was a great experience. “We saw it all happening in that fire,” she says. It lasted five days, and we experienced everything we had learned about how Feds work on a fire. We got to see them bring in teams and equipment. The first night they had us digging lines. That’s really hard work. They let us go home at night, but it was a very short break. We had to take the truck back, get it ready, be ready to start again really early the next morning.”

Structure fires can sometimes be a sad experience. When a fire is too far along, the structure can be lost. The fires that are too advanced are often because the homeowners aren’t at home. On Log Hill, many of our homes are spread out and so it is not always noticeable until the smoke or flames begin to grow and neighbors call 911. But sometimes they beat the fire. (For which, I am very grateful – LHVFD responded to a huge fire at my home. . . and saved it! I can personally attest to their professionalism and quick response! –ed.)

LHVFD has agreements with Montrose, Ridgway, Ouray, and Telluride. So, they can depend on someone if they need to call for help. If it’s a structure fire, Montrose, under an “Automatic Aid’ agreement automatically comes. Ridgway, Ourayand Telluride respond as ‘Mutual Aid partners’, when requested.

Marian is not the only woman to serve with LHVFD, and presently, she is one of two women in the firefighter group. Like the men, though, Marian carries her gear in the trunk of her car. “Because we’re volunteers, wherever we happen to be, we drop everything and go!” Because she and her compatriots are always ready with a quick response, they are very much appreciated on Log Hill.

Photographs, courtesy Marian Austin. Both photographs were taken at a wildfire that occurred June 15, 2013 on McKenzie Butte. Marian explains” “I am doing a commo check in the [bottom] picture. With me is fellow LHVFD firefighter, Steve Wolff. The second picture is while we were still locating the fire. We were looking eastward for a good way to get our fire engines and people in to the fire. This fire was called in from motorists who spotted the smoke and flames on the escarpment from highway 550. We were called out and located the three-acre fire and determined that it was on BLM land. We actually accessed the fire through private property after getting landowners permission. When BLM arrived, those of us who were red-carded were able to stay and help the BLM until the fire was in the mop-up stage.”

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Related Links.
Log Hill Fire Department
Colorado State Forest Service Video Highlights Log Hill Mesa Mitigation Efforts
Tree work to protect Log Hill evacuation route.‘ Ouray County Plaindealer by Bill Tiedje, November 6, 2014
History of Log Hill Fire Department, Jack Rairdan, Log Hill Mesa History.


WCOC Monthly meetings are held from 1-3 pm on the third Tuesday every month in the San Juan Room of the Ouray Community Center. Regular meetings for 2014-15 feature “Uncommon Women: Uncommon Lives, Part IV” with guest speakers who have interesting and unusual occupations for a woman. The public is welcome. Click here to view the list of past and future guest speakers.

Following the guest presentation, guests and members enjoy a social period with refreshments and an opportunity to view various projects and sign up for committee activities. The regular membership meeting follows, which addresses upcoming events and activities, shares “Cares and Concerns” with members, and reviews other membership business.

Members and guests are encouraged to bring items for the Ouray County Food Pantry.