Fire evacuees return to smoke, ash and fear
Vail CO, Colorado
CANYON CREEK “Living in Canyon Creek Estates, the Nilssons are familiar with wildfires. But there is a large, charcoal-gray area between familiar and comfortable.
“We were here when (Garfield County Sheriff’s deputies) came knocking on the doors Tuesday,” said Christy Nilsson. “We were able to come back Wednesday morning, for clothes and some other things.”
That’s when the fear took hold.
“That was a real scary scene,” she said. “The whole hillside was going up in flames.”
The Nilssons’ home sits on the adjacent hillside of Canyon Creek, where fire crews performed a back burn late Tuesday night, ridding the area of fuels and snuffing out the flames.
A little too close for comfort in Christy’s opinion.
Christy and her husband, Steve, have lived in the same neighborhood for more than a decade. They were married the day the Storm King fire ignited in June of 1994. They had a different house then, just down the road from where they currently live.
“All of our wedding gifts were inside,” Christy remembers. “We had some friends come and gather them all up.”
They witnessed, and voluntarily evacuated during the Coal Seam Fire as well. But this most recent fire was the first time they were forced to leave their home.
“It’s a scary place to live during fire season,” she said. “The other fires didn’t seem as bad, but now it’s like, OK, this is getting to be too much.”
Christy’s next-door neighbor, Melanie Nichol said they didn’t even have time to gather many possessions.
“The sheriffs came through and told us to get out now,” Nichol said. “We didn’t have an hour like some of the others said. It was like, ‘leave now.'”
But that was Monday.
Friday morning, the sunshine thawed tensions throughout the neighborhood. Nichol’s 3-year-old son, Schantz, played on the slip-n-slide in the front yard while mom took a break from cleaning up after the fire.
“The whole house smells like smoke,” Nichol said. “Everything outside was covered in ash and dust.”
Meanwhile, Christy and two of her young daughters were unloading the family’s Ford Expedition with volumes of family photo albums and other irreplaceable items.
“You have a vague idea of what to take, depending on how much time you have,” Christy said.
Hannah, their 10-year-old daughter, nearly cleaned out her entire room, Christy joked. Their 5-year-old, Grace, took mostly stuffed animals.
“I was probably the one that freaked out the most,” Hannah said.
But they managed to save the things that were important to them and left saving the house up to the firefighters.
“I just have to thank them for putting it out so quickly,” Christy said.
The Nilssons stayed with family in Glenwood from Monday night to Thursday afternoon, Christy said. All of her neighbors were out on their back decks, shouting at one another, welcoming each other home the way neighbors do.
But the nerve switch was still in the “on” position as hot spots continued to glow on the hillside just east of their home.
“It was like fireflies,” Christy said. “It was amazing.”
Friday was a big sigh of relief, she said. But that gray area between familiar and comfort is slowly closing in around them. A charred hillside dominates the view from their back deck.
“Our view may be gone,” Christy said. “But at least we still have a deck to sit on.”
And the view is not entirely gone, it’s just well done.
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