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A family left with nothing but each other

Dennis Webb

In an instant Saturday, Carole and Stan Rachesky’s possessions were reduced from a houseful to a handful.”We lost it all,” Carole said, simply, a day after Glenwood’s Coal Seam Fire burned an indelible mark in her family’s memory.The Racheskys owned a home and bed-and-breakfast on a private road at the end of Mitchell Creek Road. It was one of several on the road to fall victim to the blowup of Saturday’s fire.When the Storm King Fire of 1994 struck, the Racheskys were given several hours’ notice to evacuate.”But this was like a flash,” Carole said of Saturday’s fast-moving maelstrom. They were away when the fire struck, and were unable to get back in time to retrieve any possessions.”Everything I own is in a hole on that lot. I have my dog, the clothes on my back and my husband, and that’s it,” Rachesky said.Pictures of children, her marriage certificate – it’s all gone.”I have nothing,” she said.Also lost in the blaze was a pet cat the Racheskys had brought inside their house earlier in the day, to get it out of the summer heat.”She didn’t make it,” Rachesky said.She and her husband tried to get back to their home as the fire grew from its origins in South Canyon and hopped the Colorado River to mount an advance to the northeast.”We were at the grocery store, and we heard that it had jumped the Colorado River, so we flew home on Donegan Road and started up Mitchell Creek.”But their car became engulfed in smoke and heat, and they had to turn around.Their worst fears were confirmed Sunday when Stan and the Racheskys’ son, Peter, a local attorney, were taken up Mitchell Creek by authorities to see what damage the fire had wrought.”We had a fairly good idea (the house had been lost), but we weren’t positive because you hear so many rumors, and we just wanted to see for ourselves,” Carole Rachesky said.What her son and husband found was a baffling mix of destroyed and unscathed property.The Glenwood Springs Fish Hatchery survived. Kenny Cline’s guest cabin, bridge and garage burned, while the fire missed his house. Two other houses burned, along with the Racheskys’ properties.But fortunately, said Rachesky, the home above theirs did not burn.”It was the strangest thing,” she said of the fire’s hopscotch pattern.As Peter Rachesky and his father headed up to the property to see what had become of it, they had to walk past the hatchery. The fire had brought trees down onto the road.Peter Rachesky said firemen told them they had tried to fight the fire up the canyon, but falling trees forced them to retreat.The Racheskys climbed over logs, which still gave off heat from the previous day’s blaze. They continued to feel warmth from the fire as they continued up the road.The first thing they noticed as they got to their property was a vacant spot where there should have been a shed. But they were encouraged when they saw a lower patio for the bed and breakfast. It was still intact, including a patio umbrella, and a woodpile still green with weeds.”We thought, `Wow, the house could still be there,'” Peter said.But where the house was supposed to be, they could see right through to mountains on the other side.Rachesky said he had seen the remains of house fires before, and they usually left behind at least a remaining skeleton of the home.Not so in this case.”I was amazed to find that there was nothing whatsoever left, except the stone foundation and the chimney,” Rachesky said. “It was like a tornado had taken it away.”The one salvageable item he could find was an outdoor light fixture.”I retrieved that just because it was the only thing left to bring back as a memento to my mother,” he said.A nearby property was similarly vaporized. Rachesky saw the remnants of a brand-new Audi, which he said looked like a unibody frame, stripped of its paint, tires and windows.A Nissan Pathfinder and an all-terrain vehicle in an adjacent garage were also gutted by the heat and flames.One hundred feet up the road, there were still fires burning.”It was obvious that the fire wasn’t done, but it was just kind of residual fires,” Rachesky said.He was struck by the changes the fire had wrought. His parents’ home and bed and breakfast had sat on a lush, green lot on the creekside. But the fire reduced much of the foliage to “little wisps of tree,” like something out of a Dr. Seuss drawing, Rachesky said.Yet here and there remained totally green, untouched sections of vegetation.Like his mother, Rachesky was struck by how the fire torched some buildings while leaving others untouched. He had always envisioned fire as “random, blind and raging,” but instead it exhibited a more surgical, deliberate touch, he said.Despite its ravaging impacts, Rachesky considers his parents stronger than any fire.”They don’t mourn. They don’t look back, they just drive on,” he said.Carole Rachesky may be strong, but the reality of the situation remains hard to grasp.She and Stan invested 16 years of time and money into totally renovating their home and making it their own, and converting a rundown, second structure into a B&B. They opened their business in 1994, survived the Storm King fire scare that same year and continued to make it into a success.It’s hard for Carole Rachesky to think about what happens for her and her husband next.”It’s like we don’t even go there. It’s like we’re in a dream and we hope we don’t wake up. It’s not reality yet. It isn’t for me because I haven’t seen it. I think it hit my husband when he went up there.”Even in her time of turmoil, Rachesky also couldn’t help but worry about her customers.”I feel bad because I have guests coming in today,” said Rachesky.She hasn’t been able to contact them.”They’re just wandering around Glenwood wondering what’s happened,” she surmised.Peter Rachesky has hope that the city will respond to Saturday’s tragedy with the same kind of resolve that his parents have.”It’s a dark day for Glenwood, and West Glenwood in particular, but I’m sure the people will persevere,” he said.


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