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Grizzly Creek Fire frazzles the nerves of evacuees

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Les Gray walked out of his home in No Name on Monday afternoon and captured this image about 30 minutes after the Grizzly Creek Fire erupted. He packed his belongings and relocated Tuesday before the official evacuation order.
Les Gray/courtesy photo

Les Gray walked out the home where he was staying in No Name in Glenwood Canyon on Monday afternoon and snapped a photo about one-half hour after the Grizzly Creek Fire erupted.

He captured the image of an ominous-looking, gray-tinted mushroom cloud billowing up.

“You knew it was trouble,” he said.

He didn’t wait for an evacuation notice to start packing his belongings. He also called his brother in upstate New York, the owner of the house, to ask him what possessions he wanted taken out.

Gray ended up staying at the house that night and watched as flames danced on a ridge to the east. Somehow, he managed a good night’s sleep, though he backed his car into the driveway for a quick getaway, if needed.

He packed up Tuesday morning and was preparing to evacuate even before the official notice was issued. Shortly before leaving he looked out the window to see the flames creeping down to No Name Creek, where he estimated there are roughly 70 homes on the north side of Interstate 70.

No Name is one of several neighborhoods that were required to evacuate as the fire started its rapid expansion on Tuesday. Homeowners in the evacuation zones are holding their breath, crossing their fingers and hoping everything turns out OK.

“It’s the second time I’ve been through it up on my hill. It’s very emotional,” said Vaughn Shafer, who has lived on Lookout Mountain for 19 years.

The fire was more of a curiosity than a menace for him on Monday night. He and a friend took an all-terrain vehicle from his property onto backcountry roads to check out the flames Monday evening. On Tuesday, after working all day in his blacksmith shop in El Jebel, Shafer defied Garfield County Sheriff’s Office closures to return to his property to get some belongings. It was of vital importance to him. He stayed the night but departed Wednesday and feared he might not see his home again.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be good,” Shafer said. “I grabbed everything I thought was important.”

He’s been staying at a friend’s house in Missouri Heights, where there is a constant visual reminder that the fire isn’t far from his property. Air tankers worked relentlessly to coat the Lookout Mountain area in retardant on Wednesday and in following days.

“They saved my home, my little piece of heaven,” Shafer said.

He loves the area because of it backcountry feel. His driveway is more than 4 miles long. He’s enjoyed exploring the adjacent national forest and Bureau of Land Management property. From his house at 8,500 feet in elevation he can see from Independence Pass to Sunlight Mountain.

On Friday, he said he figured the nearest flames were about 2 miles east of his spread. He is hopeful the threat to his neighborhood is past.

A few miles away from Lookout Mountain, Jeanne Hayes became concerned about her family’s home in Homestead Estates as the fire grew Monday afternoon while she was working in Carbondale. She rushed home as it became apparent the fire was growing.

“I grabbed the important things and came back down,” Hayes said.

She spent a fitful night at the house Monday night but didn’t see any sign of the fire Tuesday morning.

“I thought we were out of the woods,” she said.

The fire roared back to life in the heat of the day. Her husband came over from their farm in the North Fork Valley and they decided to pack up more belongings.

“We’ve lived in the valley for a long time and know what the protocol is,” she said.

The official evacuation order came after they had already worked for a couple of hours to pack belongings.

“Pulling out of there Tuesday night was really scary,” Hayes said. They passed six or seven fire trucks heading up as they departed. The sight, she said, was “very sobering.”

They hauled five trucks full of belongings from the house. She and her husband, Pat, are staying in the basement of their son’s house in the valley floor.

Like Shafer, she is hopeful that the threat has passed, but there is no containment, she noted. In addition, the Lake Christine Fire and other wildfires have demonstrated that the blazes are unpredictable.

Pat Hayes returned to the family home later this week and removed brush from around it, trying to create as much defensible space as possible. Fire crews continue to patrol the area and are assessing what structures they could save in case of wildfire.

It’s unknown when the evacuation orders for No Name, Lookout Mountain, Homestead Estates and other neighborhoods will be lifted.

“The waiting part is just hard,” Hayes said.

The family built their house 29 years ago and it’s the only place their sons knew growing up. Nevertheless, Hayes knew that leaving was the right thing to do.

“I personally don’t see any reason to stay until the bitter end,” she said.

Gray was scheduled to leave this week anyway and travel to upstate New York to help care for his mother, so evacuation wasn’t a huge inconvenience for him, other than speeding up the process. He was living in his brother’s house in No Name since October and really enjoyed exploring the hiking trails and biking the Glenwood Canyon Trail. Glenwood Canyon is a natural marvel, he said.

“To me, that’s the greatest tragedy — the wildlife loss and the habitat loss,” Gray said. “I was telling a friend of mine, the canyon’s gone. We’ll never see it again (as it was) in our lifetimes.


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