Burned-out reclaim neighborhood, lives
Like flame-scorched oak brush sprouting anew, people are resiliently re-establishing their presence where the Coal Seam Fire once reduced homes to ashes.”I’m still here,” Lee Green declared Wednesday, as he plugged away at a year-long reconstruction project at his Robin Home Manor mobile home park in West Glenwood. “Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”Clad in work jeans, a T-shirt and a Broncos hat, Green looked up a row of four new mobile homes, complete with new utilities, that he has installed where the fire claimed previous residences. He’s a bricklayer by trade, and has done the rebuilding at his park by himself. The cost savings helped to offset some of the lot rental income he’s lost over the last year.At the top of the lane, one of the new homes is finally producing income for him again. Mary Barrientos said she moved in a week earlier, just after having her second child, a boy named Xavier.Building to fend off fireA year ago, fire erased most of the evidence that people lived in places such as these mobile home spots, and elsewhere in the Mitchell Creek area. Now, Barrientos and other residents are turning a burn zone back into the neighborhood it once was. A barbecue grill sits on her front porch; a pink child’s bicycle sits in back, bringing back memories of other bikes whose skeletal remains were left behind by the fire.Trucks, snowmobiles and other possessions parked outside newly built homes nearby speak to lives that are being rebuilt, as well. Jim and Janice George have moved into their new home. Their son, Troy Gordon, now married to Michel Field, moved into their rebuilt place before Christmas. Tim Crowdis has replaced a duplex that he lived in and rented out, and another rental property as well.Just up Mitchell Creek Road, builder Cris Shaw is rebuilding a duplex for his friend, Craig Amichaux. The new one is a tudor-type design, made to look like an English cottage. Amichaux’s mother is from England and his father spent a lot of time there.The bottom will be covered in brick, and the top in stucco. It should be much more fire-resistant than the duplex that burned down, said Shaw.The trunks of burned trees rise up the hillside behind the home. Shaw said Amichaux has been advised to leave most of them for a while because their roots stabilize the soil. Later, some thinning, partly to reduce fire danger, may be advised.Fear of fire and mudIt’s hard not to think about the continuing possibility of fire in the Mitchell Creek area. It was previously threatened by the 1994 Storm King Mountain Fire, which claimed 14 firefighters but no homes. But Green doesn’t think there’s much vegetation left to burn in the area, after two major fires.Barrientos, who lived on Mel Ray Road during last year’s fire and was out of her home for a week, glanced at fire-scarred Red Mountain and admitted to a little nervousness about what the future might bring.”Maybe no fire this year,” she said in halting English. “We don’t want it.”Looking ahead optimistically, she said she eventually might buy her mobile home from Green. It’s a good location, she said.Those who lived on Green’s burned-out mobile home lots have moved on, some to nearby towns, he said.Shannon and Brian Derby didn’t go far, buying a home in West Glenwood.Field said she didn’t know of many renters who have returned after the fire. Owners have been far more likely to do so.There have been some exceptions among older property owners. For Emmy Neil, who will turn 80 in August, it was time to move into town.”We got her all patched back together pretty well,” said her son John, who is in the insurance business.He said continuing concerns about debris flow have the family holding off on doing anything with his mother’s Mitchell Creek property.”We’re just kind of trying to figure out what to do with that at this point. More than likely it will be sold,” Neil said.Moving onAlso on Mitchell Creek, Norm and Mary Dunlap have rebuilt. Foundation work has begun on a duplex on the property of Mike Henry, after he was able to resolve a zoning problem with Garfield County.Farther up the creek, above the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s fish hatchery, reconstruction has yet to begin. As the canyon narrows, the threat of post-fire flooding looms larger.”We are going to rebuild, but we have to just wait till really the fall to really get serious about it, to make sure there’s no mud coming down the hill,” said Stan Rachesky.He and his wife, Carole, lost their home and bed and breakfast to the fire. For now, they have reopened the B&B in a rental property just below the hatchery.He said Ralph and Renae Besler, who lived the farthest up the creek, have bought a place in South Dakota, where Ralph’s family lives, but Rachesky believes they will keep the creekside property.Two other nearby homes belonged to people from out of state. Rachesky said he thinks there are plans to rebuild on at least one of the properties.”Life is good now”Just weeks after the loss of material possessions due to the fire, Rachesky was threatened with the loss of his life when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. But he had surgery and appears to be recovering well.He has helped start a prostate cancer support group in Glenwood, and he and his wife are busy again with their B&B.”I was one of the lucky guys,” he said. “Life is good now.”Field, too, has a new perspective on what matters in life.”I still very much value my possessions. I always loved the things I had,” said Field. “I still value that, but it’s not you, it’s not who you are.””I got the most important things out, which were the dogs,” she said – quickly clarifying with a laugh that Troy already was out of the house.She said she finds herself being more compassionate for people going through genuinely hard times. “But when people whine all the time about things, you have less compassion about that,” she said.She and Troy were the first to rebuild after the fire. It was partly a way of coping with their loss.”You look back and just remember but you can’t look back and dwell on it. You’ve just got to keep going and get it done,” she said.Green takes a similar outlook. He didn’t lose his home in the fire, but lost a doublewide unit in which he stored tools and other possessions. With the loss of the rental units, the fire dealt him a big financial hit. But he’s used to dealing with big hits, after the untimely death of his wife, Vicki Lee Green, following a long and debilitating illness.”You just never know what you’re going to go through when something like this happens,” he said of the fire.”You just get out there. You just pull up your pants and start ripping,” he added, as he readied to get back into his skid steer and get back to work.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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