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Air tankers reminders of ’94 Storm King fire

Lynn Burton
Staff Writer

Jim Lochhead had just returned to his West Glenwood home Tuesday morning when a low-flying air tanker dropped its load of fire retardant along a ridge less than a quarter mile to the northwest.

“It reminds me of Storm King,” said Lochhead at the end of his driveway, as he picked up the last two days’ newspapers. “They came right over the house.”

Lochhead was one of hundreds of West Glenwood Springs residents who were in varying stages of settling back in, after being told Monday evening they could return at their own risk.

Folks stood in clusters on Sunny Acres Road and Donegan Road, reading newspapers, swapping evacuation stories and watching air tankers drop their red loads on the ridge that forms West Glenwood’s northern geological boundary.

An Elmer Glass employee climbed up on the top of his company truck and peered through binoculars to get a closer view of the aerial action.

Some West Glenwood businesses, such as 7/Eleven, were open but others, including most Glenwood Springs Mall stores, were closed. At noon, the Glenwood Springs Golf Club was deserted. At Big O Tires, three employees in red shirts stood outside their vacant bays, watching the air tanker action like everyone else.

At the east end of the fire’s perimeter south of Glenwood Springs, roadblocks and National Guard troops were gone from Four Mile Road, but still in place at Three Mile. Residents there and at nearby Mountain Springs Ranch and South Canyon are still not allowed to return.

Lochhead said when he returned to his Sunny Acres house a few minutes earlier, a fire crew was working behind his house, building a perimeter.

“They could light a backfire to keep the fire from coming down,” said Lochhead, an attorney and former director the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a little disquieting to have a fire crew walking around behind your house.”

Lochhead evacuated with his wife, Abby, Saturday night, and they spent the last two nights in Vail.

He figured he’d stay in his home Tuesday night, “But with slurries flying, I wonder whether it’s wise to stay.”

Down in Mountain Mobile Home Park to the west, Beth Dardynski thought she and her husband, Jim Croy, would spend one more night at the Frontier Lodge in south Glenwood.

“The inside of the house is pretty smoky,” Dardynski said, as she gave her thirsty flower bed a much-needed watering. “It didn’t sound like they really wanted us back in here. So we thought it might be prudent to give it another night.”

Mountain Mobile Home Park sits between Two Rivers Chevrolet, which fronts Interstate 70 and sustained no fire damage, and the Robin Hood Mobile Home Park, where several residences were burned to the ground Saturday night.

Dardynski, her visiting nephew and his friends were kayaking the Colorado River Saturday afternoon when they saw smoke coming from Glenwood Springs. By the time they returned home, the smoke was getting bad, but the kids wanted to run down to Charcoal Burger to bring back some food.

Everyone was at the dinner table eating their burgers when one of the kids said, “It’s getting really bad out there.” Seconds later, the phone rang. It was Dardynski’s stepson, J.C. Croy, who lives in the Robin Hood Mobile Home Park immediately to the west. “He was screaming `Get out. Get out. The fire is coming down the mountain,'” she said.

“We ran around, threw the dogs in the truck. Tried to find the cats. Couldn’t,” Dardynski continued. She then rushed out and pounded on a neighbor’s door to warn them, as a police car came down the street telling everyone to evacuate.

“We had maybe five minutes to get out,” Dardynski said. “We screamed at the kids we’d rendezvous at the Bayou.”

They parked at the Bayou restaurant, about two miles to the east, until the smoke got so bad there they had to leave. After that, they hop-scotched to the City Market and Factory Surplus parking lots. “We kept moving further and further,” she said.

Finally, Dardynski and her crew got the last two rooms available at the Frontier Lodge in south Glenwood Springs. Her new buddy, Krys Obrochta, was running the lodge for her parents, who were out of town.

“Krys was so good to us,” Dardynski said.

The scene at the Frontier was a little chaotic. “People kept pouring in. The cell phone kept ringing,” Dardynski said.

Obrochta agreed that Saturday night was, “definitely chaotic.”

By the time Dardynski and her people snagged the last two rooms, the lodge was filled with about 50 percent evacuees and 50 percent regular guests. Everyone could see the flames as they moved in on Red Mountain, and it looked like south Glenwood Springs might have to be evacuated as well.

“It was crazy … trying to keep myself together, thinking we might have to evacuate the motel. Then the winds shifted and people calmed down … some,” Obrochta said.


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