Blaze no match for community’s spirit
On Saturday, June 8, a fierce, hot wind blew out of the west. Up South Canyon, where a burning coal seam has smoldered for 100 years or more, the wind whipped a few embers from the surface of the coal seam into the drought-parched oakbrush growing nearby.
The wind kept blowing, fanning the sparks into a blaze that quickly spread on the hillside. The fire was spotted quickly. Firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes and called for slurry bombers and helicopters, but the fierce wind pushed harder and faster than people could react.
The blaze turned into a roaring wildfire, a conflagration of epic size that consumed hundreds of acres of dry brush and trees in South Canyon as it spread north. At the mouth of South Canyon, it turned east and rolled toward Glenwood Springs. And then the fire, raging out of control, did the unthinkable, jumping the railroad tracks, the Colorado River and four lanes of Interstate 70 in one leap, to ignite the western fringes of West Glenwood.
The fire forked. One part burned across Glenwood Meadows and up Red Mountain; the other part bore down on West Glenwood and then barreled up Mitchell Creek. Firefighters took a stand against both parts and prevented far greater devastation. But they could not stop the hungry fire altogether.
The Coal Seam Fire, as it came to be known, burned 29 homes and trailers, along with a half dozen outbuildings. It left steep mountain slopes barren of vegetation, triggering slides that caused a rocky, muddy mess. Thankfully, it did not claim a single human life.
Now, nearly six months later, the people who lost their homes, their belongings, their pets, are putting their lives back together. As we approach this national holiday of Thanksgiving, the Post Independent caught up with some of these fire victims to see how they are coping with their losses and their challenges.
Their stories will appear on these pages today, Thursday, Friday and Sunday in a special series, “Coal Seam Fire: Rising from the Ashes.”
Today, we explore what the fire meant to the community, and recall how residents, over and over, rose to the occasion with volunteerism and giving.
On Thursday, we take a closer look at the process of rebuilding homes in the burned areas. On Friday, we will revisit the steep slopes at risk for mudslides to find out what the experts think could happen next. And on Sunday, we will report on a very special homecoming.
Each day, we also interview some of the people who lost their homes on June 8, who are new rebuilding their homes and their lives with the help of friends and strangers.
In every interview with these people, we hear one thing again and again: a sincere and deep sense of gratitude for the help they have gotten over the past months from friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow church members and total strangers. This is the spirit of Thanksgiving that they will share with every reader.
– Heather McGregor, Managing Editor
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