A silver lining emerges from wildfire terror
Glenwood Springs has looked into the inferno, felt gut-wrenching fear and deep loss, and seen a gleaming silver lining of community togetherness.The Coal Seam fire ripped through West Glenwood and across the Meadows Saturday afternoon, terrifying eyewitnesses and paralyzing the valley as highways and neighborhoods were evacuated and closed down.The fire burned 41 structures by latest count, and two dozen families are homeless. Our beautiful Red Mountain, with its apron of tall oakbrush, is charred black.Yet in the moments of fear and the days after, Glenwood Springs and its neighbors have stepped forward to fight the fire, fight the fear and confusion, and repair the losses.On Saturday afternoon, as the wind-whipped wildfire roared out of South Canyon and took a right towards Glenwood Springs, Glenwood Springs police officers headed into West Glenwood and Mitchell Creek neighborhoods, advising residents to flee.Officers drove through flames to get to some homes, determined that there would be no loss of life on their shift. Their efforts succeeded.Firefighters with the Glenwood Springs & Rural Fire District picked a line of defense in West Glenwood, faced down the fireball, and saved hundreds of homes from destruction. Volunteer firefighter Chris Caywood was among them, although his home was one of those vaporized by the fire.In South Canyon, railroad worker George Maddalone drove back toward town when he saw the smoke and flames of the blow-up. Passing through the Cardnell Ranch, he stopped to pick up transients hanging out along the river. The men would never have been able to outrun the flames that soon followed.On Red Mountain, City Councilman Rick Davis heard that police were planning to evacuate the neighborhood. He rounded up a few neighbors and started the evacuation, giving police more precious minutes to recheck the West Glenwood neighborhoods that were in imminent danger.At Colorado Mountain College, staff unlocked the Spring Valley Campus cafeteria, gymnasium and dormitories, making way for hundreds of evacuated residents and tourists. CMC’s kitchen crew was up at 2 a.m. Sunday preparing breakfast for 1,000 people.Dozens of residents have opened their homes to relatives, friends and mere acquaintances. Restaurants and grocery stores have unloaded cartons of cold drinks, sandwiches, snacks and other provisions at places around town where people have gathered.In Glenwood Park, neighbors gathered in the quiet streets to watch flames shoot into the night sky. When police chief Terry Wilson went home for a few minutes, his neighbors wanted to know two things: Was the West Glenwood commercial district on fire, and how could they help.All over town, the phrase “How can I help?” has been spoken hundreds of times. The community spirit of Glenwood Springs is shining through the smoke.It comes as no surprise to those of us who have lived here a while. Glenwood Springs, it seems, has seen more than its share of tragedy over the years. The 1981 Redstone coal mine disaster, the 1985 Rocky Mountain Natural Gas Co. explosion, the 1994 Storm King fire, and now the 2002 Coal Seam fire, all blended deep sorrow with a spirit of giving.People who have come to Glenwood Springs to help us through these times often say how remarkable they find this reaction. But in Glenwood Springs, we know this is what makes our town such a warm and loving community.We don’t take this attitude for granted. We recognize it, easily, and note with pride just how special this place and its people are.- Heather McGregor, Managing Editor
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