Shell blast injures 2 avalanche control workers

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 31, 2014 at 6:45 pm •  Published: March 31, 2014
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GEORGETOWN, Colo. (AP) — Two state workers were injured, one seriously, after an avalanche shell exploded Monday while they were trying to fire a round up a steep hillside to clear steep chasms filled with snow and ice near Interstate 70.

They were standing behind a barricade in the area about 50 miles west of Denver when the shell detonated prematurely, injuring the men above the waist, department spokesman Tony DeVito said. The nature of their injuries was not available, but DeVito said one was in serious condition and the other in fair condition.

One man worked for the Colorado Department of Transportation and the other for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. A third worker at the scene was not hurt.

Their names have not been released, and DeVito said their families asked for privacy.

"We are continuing to look at how we handled it," DeVito said at a news conference about the avalanche operation.

Earlier, in a written statement, DeVito said the department will look at ways to improve crew safety.

The avalanche center, a state agency that issues daily forecasts of avalanche danger, said 9 inches of snow fell overnight on Loveland Pass, and the avalanche danger was rated as considerable there.

The shells are fired using launchers with compressed gas up mountainsides to set off controlled avalanches to protect drivers and backcountry skiers. The department, working with the avalanche center, fires thousands of rounds a year, and there have been no serious injuries to ground workers reported in decades.

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