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Storm Mountain Stories

Snow Capped Mountains by Matt Charboneau

June 2000 The Bobcat Gulch Wildfire The Bobcat Gulch fire is the biggest fire in the history of the Roosevelt National Forest.
By King Ables (formerly of 191 Snow Top) - Larimer County created a web site about the Bobcat fire that has some pictures.

I was able to watch some of it via my Cabin Cam that I have set up at my house (usually to see how much snow has fallen in the winter!). Others seemed to be doing the same thing, the Cabin Cam has never gotten more than 500 hits in any week, and the week of the fire it got 10,424 hits! Some of the shots are available in the Cabin Cam archive.

This wildfire was in my area and came frighteningly close to my house (less than a mile as the crow flies), but I was extremely lucky and had no damage. This is a diary of my experiences related to this event.

Monday, June 12, 2000
I had returned from Austin over the weekend, having spent a week visiting friends and my parents and celebrating my 40th birthday. I had stayed in Denver Sunday so I hadn't yet gotten back to the house and was looking forward to being home that night.

I was sitting at work, thinking about going to lunch about 12:30pm. I casually clicked on the Cabin Cam just to take a look at the view and saw smoke across the valley from the house! I went to the window of my building and looked out and saw a huge cloud over Fort Collins . I couldn't see the source because of a new building on the HP site, so I had to go outside to walk around that building and saw smoke pouring from the foothills, and it looked like it was just north of where I live. As I was standing there, a co-worker came out and asked me if I lived nearby. I said I was trying to figure that out. I went back inside to call my nearest neighbors to see if I could find out more detail.

Lee and Carolyn live just down the hill from my house, when I called, Carolyn answered, short of breath. "What's going on?" I asked. "We're packing," she said. "We haven't been told to leave yet, but it's just a matter of time, its close." I told her I had seen it from town and I didn't want to keep them. I would try to call them back in the afternoon and see if they're still there.

I kept a close watch on the Cabin Cam the rest of the day.

By afternoon, news of the fire had hit the local media (the local paper has a web site they update regularly) and I found out that, indeed, my area had been evacuated. I called my neighbors to make sure, but only got their machine. I called some friends in town to see if I could stay at their house that night. Since I had just returned from Austin , I at least had clothes, albeit dirty, with me. I did laundry and was glued to TV that night.

They said the fire started early Monday morning in Bobcat Gulch and was burning in the Cedar Park subdivision north of Drake. Apparently some of the residents rushed to fight it and almost had it out before it jumped into another area. As of Monday night it had burned 2000 acres.

Bobcat Gulch is just off the main road up to my house, so I had no idea how close it might be. The only thing I had to hold on to was seeing on the Cabin Cam that, at least so far, my house was OK.

Tuesday, June 13, 2000
The forecast said windy, but nobody had any idea how the wind would blow. It sometimes does in Colorado and Tuesday brought big winds out of the west. It blew the fire front to the east and it made about a seven mile run on Tuesday. I didn't know it at the time, but that was pretty good news for me since it took it out of the Cedar Park area. The bad news is it pointed it directly at Masonville (another town closer to Fort Collins ). The fire had to get up and over Green Ridge to get there, but it managed.

I went to work, but have to confess I didn't get much done. I was mainly watching the local media web sites and the Forest Service web site for information. I did go to a couple of meetings, but who can't do that while thinking about something else? ;-)

The smoke plume, from town, appeared to be significantly reduced in the morning, but once the winds picked up, it got huge again. It actually did this every day, the morning would start out looking encouraging and in the afternoon the huge plume would be back.

The worst thing about the day for me was that the fire burned through power lines and the Cabin Cam stopped uploading pictures at 2:30pm. After that I was blind and I found out just how much having it had been helping me keep calm. Firefighters were doing their best just to protect structures and life, they weren't even trying to control the fire yet, it was moving too fast.

Wednesday, June 14, 2000
The third day of the fire was calmer weather-wise but I still didn't know what was happening. My manager said she heard that they were going to let people go up the mountain with escorts to inspect property and gather belongings. So I kept a close watch on the local media.

About lunchtime I did hear that since the fire had moved east and they were mainly moping up hot spots in my area, they were letting people go up for 90 minutes. So during yet another meeting, I did a mental inventory of things I'd get if I could go back briefly and if it was still there. About 3pm I headed home to see what I would find.

When I got to Drake, I saw a different town than I had ever seen before. Instead of the sleepy little bend in the road with a restaurant and Post Office, there were hundreds of people, dozens of cars, and satellite trucks from all the Denver news stations. I parked to go to the Post Office to get my mail and talk to the Postmaster. He couldn't wait for this to all be over!

When I started up my road, I was stopped by a sheriff's deputy to prove residency. He said they were giving everybody 90 minutes and were escorting them to "the T" (a "major" intersection in the dirt road) and then we were on our own. He said from my address he knew I was OK.

Driving up the road, I saw many hot spots that were still smoking and a couple of small fires still burning. It was surreal. At the top of the main road, at "the T," there were about a hundred tents, a bunch of trucks, and a helicopter loading up to make a water drop.

My gate had an orange ribbon on it, presumably signifying that the house had been evacuated or no one had been home. I got up to the house and was, needless to say, relieved to see it standing, even though I had no real reason to think otherwise. I spent the next hour or so gathering up things in my mental inventory (pictures, negatives, yearbooks, personal souvenirs, etc.). I packed my car almost full. I could have gotten a little more, but to be able to decide the next level of priority would have required several more cars, so I just stopped. I also emptied out the fridge since the power was off. By the time I got back down, I think I had used 100 of my 90 minutes!

Thursday, June 15, 2000
Thursday brought more wind and dry, hot air. This was the "red" day the Forest Service was saying would be the important day in the fire. The forecast called for sustained winds of 20-30 and gusts to 50 (an in fact, some gusts hit 75mph!). Everyone was fearing the worst. Since the fire appeared to have passed my area, I didn't know whether to worry or not.

Mid-morning, I read in the local newspaper's web site that the fire had turned back on Cedar Park, but that was about all the detail they had. Now I was worried! I was never able to find out any more detail than that, though.

On Friday I was able to talk to my neighbors and they told me that the fire had jumped the road at the bottom and started up "our" side of the mountain. They were even trapped for a couple of hours as they had come up again on Thursday (as they had let us on Wednesday). They said the firefighters did a great job of jumping on the new fire and stopping it, but there were some tense moments when they thought they might lose their home after all. I think I'm glad I didn't know all this until Friday!

Thursday evening brought a cold front with humid air, colder temps, and most importantly, NO WIND. Whatever had survived until now had a chance and the firefighters made their run at actually controlling the fire.

Friday, June 16, 2000
Day five brought much better weather. I blew off work since I hadn't gotten much done other than distracting other people all week anyway. I went to the 9am news conference at the restaurant in Drake. They said they were going to let people go up again as they had Wednesday and Thursday, but they weren't ready to say we would be able to go home. Since I wasn't 100% sure things were OK, I got in the line to be escorted up the hill.

On my way up, I noticed my neighbors were at their house, so I stopped in to visit since I hadn't talked to them since that frantic phone call on Monday. They told me how they had packed up Monday after spending the morning in Estes Park playing golf and the scary story of the previous day. I told them I had gotten off light in all of it, mainly being a passive observer.

From the house you could see the result of the fire at the base of Storm Mountain on the other side of the valley from me. Most of my area is still green and lush (although it's been so dry the color is deceiving) and not that far away it's charred and black. For several days, if the wind was out of the northwest, you could smell the ash. It's quite a reminder every time I step outside.

I checked the house again and everything was fine. I made a few phone calls (yes, the phone still worked!) and left again. I figured without power, even if they let us go home, I couldn't do much.

I left before the announcement that we could go home that evening and it turns out the rural electric company got the power restored about 6pm! I was impressed. I had plans in Denver for the weekend anyway, so I figured it would be OK to be gone a few more days. I saw on the news on Saturday that the area got 4" of *snow* late Friday night! That helped cool things down a little more, too.

Monday, June 19, 2000
Finally got back home for real and was able to unload the car. I put my computer back together and found the every-one-minute Cabin Cam pictures that give a pretty good idea of what things looked like. I'm currently trying to convert these into a time-lapse "movie."

Saturday, July 15, 2000
The Salvation Army gathered a group together last Saturday to go up Storm Mountain and help clean up burned property. The first time I heard about this was last Monday in the Fort Collins paper, so I called them and found out they were doing it again. Feeling like I had really skated, I wanted to try to help somebody else.

We met at "the T" at 8am (yes, me somewhere at 8am on a Saturday, can you believe it?!) and split up into teams to clean up one of 3 different areas. The couple that owned the property we were cleaning up was there when we got there. He's 80 and she's 76 and they were really happy to have help. But it was very sobering to see a house full of memories and possessions reduced to a pile of rubble. Bottles were fused together, china was melted (not broken, just melted), and anything with any metal in it left only the metal to indicate what it had been.

And soot was everywhere. Every time you picked something up and threw it in the truck you breathed it in. One guy said he now remembered why he quit smoking 15 years ago! And it was hot. This was what would turn out to be the last day of a 17-day heat wave along the Front Range of 90 degrees or higher. I know not everyone will think that's hot, but believe me, here that's hot. And up on Storm Mountain I bet it was in the mid-80s.

The property was beautiful (if you could take yourself back and imagine it green). Walking behind where their cabin had been, up a hill and out onto an open area with some really nice rock formations, you could look down into the valley. I could even see my house from there. Such a beautiful piece of land and it was now so barren. The couple said they weren't planning to rebuild, they didn't figure they had the time. But their 23-year-old grandson would hold onto the property and by the time he was in his 30s and ready to build on it, it would probably be a nice place again. It was sad, but they seemed to have a really good attitude about it. They really appreciated the 30 years they'd had there.

When we arrived it had been a total disaster, pieces of metal roof, stuff from the house, and soot everywhere. When we left, there was only a chimney standing (to be knocked down and hauled off later).

I think they're doing this again next Saturday but I'll be out of town, I wish I'd be around. Watching folks get together to help each other helps renew my faith in mankind.

By Kathy Miller - Was it really 8 years ago this month? Hard to believe so much time has passed and I still find tears in my eyes when I see the devastation left behind.

We have a fantastic volunteer fire department, but what would have happened that day, June 12, 2000, if our Storm Mountain Community had the proper fire equipment and training to help fight a forest fire? Well, I'm no expert, but I was there from the first smoke sighting and I will be the first to say, the Bobcat fire would not have burned out of control. I'll explain why.

That morning I stepped out onto the porch. Instantly I smelled smoke. The air looked eerie with wispy looking streaks of smoke. Yes, there was no doubt it was a fire. My eyes started stinging as I ran back into the house, grabbed the phone and dialed 911. The voice on the other end said, “Do you know the exact location of the fire?” I realized I didn't know. Carl, my husband, was already in the car with the cell phone and I grabbed the binoculars. We drove to where it looked like it was coming from. Carl has hunted these mountains since the early 1980's and his calculations proved to be right. It was very close. We called 911 again and gave the location as best we could; it's in the Bobcat Draw.

We went home, called the only neighbor we could think to call. He said he'd meet us on his 4-wheeler at the Bobcat entrance (of course, no 4-wheelers are allowed). I was devastated at the thought.. what could 3 people do? There was no communication network, no way to reach anyone else; most people were in town working. We couldn't think of anyone to call for immediate help. We knew it would take time for the fire department from Loveland to arrive on the scene and our volunteer fire department had limited equipment.

So, what did we take with us? Shovels and picks, the 3 of us – all we could think of is, this is our mountain – we have to do SOMETHING! That was our only course of action, to drive illegally back to where we thought the fire was, and then what? We had no idea. We had seen things on TV about creating a ring around a fire to stop the path, but that's all we knew. No water. No protective clothing. No chain saws. No real fire fighting equipment, nothing.

When we reached the fire, it was only about ¾ of an acre, very manageable with the right equipment and enough help, but all we could do was to take our meager shovels and picks and start pulling the debris back from the fire. Extremely hard work, but yet we pushed ourselves to the point of near total exhaustion. With more help, more equipment, training...the Bobcat fire never would have been a forest fire – never.

I'll never forget how tired and thirsty we were, with soot-stained clothes, the heat on our skin, the helpless feeling that we weren't doing enough, and the angry emotions I went through.

Evacuation! Everyone was forced to leave. Carl & I stayed to provide hand-drawn maps of our community road system with no street signs. It was no wonder the fire fighting crews were lost! We loaned the firemen our 4-wheelers, even shovels when needed. We stayed for the entire duration. From the first moment to the last, we were in a panic state, like being involved in a car accident for 5 days!

When I was asked to write my memories of the fire, I didn't know it would be this hard, stirring up all the memories, but if the sole purpose of this writing is to make others aware of the dire need of training, equipment, communication, a phone tree, emergency traffic assistance, donations, then it is well worth it.

Don't ever think that because we had one fire, there won't be another. It could happen any time, anywhere. That's how SMERT (Storm Mountain Emergency Response Team) was born. A community that cares! Volunteers came forward, giving their time and money for the safety of our families and neighbors. Since the Bobcat fire, we have had other fires located and extinguished due to the system we have with SMERT, and not only fires….lives have been saved. Time is of the essence with any emergency. Our choice is to live in this beautiful, yet remote area. Your help is needed and don't think, “Oh I'm only one person, what can I do?” If everyone were to say that, we wouldn't have SMERT. We need you! Every person is important. Every dollar you contribute is important. Donations are a top priority. Without the money to operate, we wouldn't have any equipment at all! Believe me, you wouldn't want to be faced with an emergency with the helpless feeling we had. Yes, we did all we could with what we had to work with, but we could have done so much better, and we know that now. I wouldn't want anyone to have to go through what we went through, not only during the fire, but also afterward…..the depression, guilt, sadness & anger. Please don't let another day go by… SMERT today!

By Pat Maslowski - Who has not at some time, when the gravel flies and the tires skate, cursed the road? It seems but a few days, maybe a week, is all it takes and we're back to jouncing and skittering atop the wash boarding and potholes of our unique road. How many times do we gasp at someone coming around a blind curve in the middle of the road as we head down, saying aloud in our cars, “Too fast!” Yet, it's understandable, the desire to get home after work, the urgency to fix dinner, attend to children, dogs, horses, the cat, and the relief at leaving the cities, the highway, and the traffic. Unspoken, but predominant, almost a mantra, 'home, home, home', but the road slows us. You have to gauge the width, the potholes, the degree of wash boarding, the cars behind and ahead, and who might be coming at you. We have to pay attention, and we do, though sometimes through gritted teeth. “It smells so good up here,” my son Dan remarked when he and his family came up for the Fourth of July parade and picnic. “It's so quiet,” he added. I thought to myself, there's a reason for this. It's the road. That bouncy, too narrow, dippy, shallow, wash boarded, skippy, skittery, awful road. How easy it would be if it were paved, in thick asphalt, center line marked, smooth as neoprene. How simple to climb and take the curves, fingers lightly steering as the car flows up the road. But, the traffic would double, triple, quadruple overnight. Property values would climb. Speed would increase, and there'd be traffic 24 hours a day. It would be so easy to get home. No more gritted teeth and cursing. But also, no more the sweet scented air of pine, willow, wild rose, rabbit brush, and sage; the quiet that comes from lack of traffic and crowds; the sense of space and vista gone now that expensive and desirable property brings houses ever closer and clustered. We'd have ease and convenience, a nice subdivision, no doubt, just like all the others we pass in our urgency to get home.

By Pat Maslowski - A community is made of so many things- a particular place, landmarks, plants, animals, sky, sun, scents, water, and people. Their relationships are the stories about these things. Communities have so many stories. Newcomers, as my husband and I are, learn as we go. But like Eve's musing in Mark Twain's Diaries of Adam and Eve, "We [are] starting at the very bottom of things-at the very beginning; we [have] to learn the ABC of things." We begin with being here, our first impressions, interactions, and then patterns and attitudes. We discover ourselves in community as we learn about place and each other.

For instance, as a newcomer to Cedar Park, I wondered how the winds blew here. In the small mountain community I lived in previously, the winds roared east from the Divide, cutting a frigid swath through our yard, bludgeoning the timbers of our house. I remember walking west in that icy wind, hunched over, pushed backwards, as it tried to rip off my jacket. I was reminded of that old fable about the contest between the wind and the sun as to who was the more powerful. The illustration on my school book showed a puff-faced cloud blowing towards a hunched-over figure, his coat billowing behind him, his arms wrapped tightly in front, and his hat flying off in the distance. These were the winds I knew where I lived before.

The wind here in Cedar Park seems to come from all directions, a swirl of air like a windmill, and it sweeps everything under our deck out east into the meadow and forest. The wind sounds like white water to me, and there's a comfort in hearing the blow and wave and rush as if in a way it protects us, is a kind of boundary between us and the city.

People are where the stories come from. What's our impression of the denizens of Storm Mountain: Cedar Park and Cedar Springs? The myth of the West, of resourcefulness, independence, and space that goes on forever is still with us. We learn by observation and meeting each other. For instance, we have a neighbor across the road from us. We wave and he waves. We've never been in his house, nor he in ours. We met last year when we went to drop off our slash in the meadow near the T. What do we know about each other? We both love the quiet. We both walk down to the cul de sac for exercise. We don't leave our porch lights on at night, preferring the distant light of stars. We both like our privacy. We're good neighbors.

Then there are the stories that will be told for years, that shape us, that bring us together in a bond that will never be forgotten. The stories of the Bobcat Fire fall into this category. So many people came to know each other in that frightening time. Neighbors helped neighbors. Some lost everything. The bravery of the firefighters and the volunteers, the people that helped, that gave of themselves and their resources, the moments of fear and decision, these are stories that will be retold.

There are the stories of the old timers, the people who were here before all the rest of us. I hear of landmarks such as Seam Rock, and I wonder how it got that name. Someone told me of people who were hang gliding from off the top of the mountain. There are so many people here who have done interesting things in their lives, who have found this place satisfying, beautiful, heart's desire. I'd like to know their stories.

We are a story telling people, finding in them, our knowledge, our comfort, our identity, and our history. So, the goal of some of us is to tell stories of each other, of our experiences, of what we know of this community called Storm Mountain.

Memories from a Storm Mountain Diary

  • 1993: The grandkids and I loaded in the car for a trip to town to buy 2 baby lambs. The grandkids were still in diapers. I had the great idea of putting diapers on the lambs to keep the car clean on the trip home.
  • June 7/8, 1993: Guard rail installed on access road.
  • June 17, 2000: Yesterday was the first day back at the cabin since the horrible Bobcat fire. This morning woke up and its snowing.
  • Aug 16, 2000: 2-1/2" rain in 2 hours. The access road washed out where Larimer County was putting in a culvert. Ashes from the 10,000 acre forest fire washed into the Big Thompson river. Some called this the "Day the River Ran Black".
  • Oct 13, 2000 (Friday): Full moon. 10 neighbors on ATV's came by in masks and costumes. Since I wasn't prepared with candy treats they got cookies. No names are being used to protect the "guilty".
  • Sept 23, 2001: Support party for Max, owner of the Stage Stop restaurant. Since the World Trade Center attach, Max had been harassed because he looks middle Eastern. Huge turnout!
  • Jan 7, 2002: Cabin in Cedar Park burned due to a chimney fire.
  • Jan 13, 2002: House in Cedar Springs burned due to a pan left on the stove.

    - Shirley Miller

    What's in your diary? Please take a few minutes to write down your best or funniest stories from the past and mail them to SMERT. We'll put them on the website.

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