Coal Seam Fire evacuees agree that irreplaceables are most important | PostIndependent.com
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Coal Seam Fire evacuees agree that irreplaceables are most important

Lynn Burton

After Tom Lacy loaded his fireproof safe in his vehicle just before dawn on June 9, he asked himself “Why am I taking this?”

Lacy, a No Name resident, quickly decided he’d let the safe do the job for which it was built if it came to that. “I put it back and left it in the garage,” he said with a laugh.

Lacy and hundreds of other Coal Seam Fire evacuees are now three weeks removed from the day they gathered up their belongings and headed to safer places. Most agree the key to knowing what to take and what to leave behind is pretty simple.

“If you can buy it (back), leave it,” said West Glenwood Springs resident Bill Meriwether.

Meriwether and his wife Bobbi didn’t have much time to pick and choose what to take and what to leave behind. He’d gone outside the afternoon of June 8, and a neighbor came up and said, “Everybody has left but you and me.”

The neighbor then said, “I’m staying,” to which Meriwether replied, “I’m going.”

Meriwether, a photographer, loaded up all his camping gear plus five gallons of water. “I didn’t know where we might have to spend the night,” he said. He also took his two most expensive cameras and other photography equipment, but left behind all his negatives.

“They were in three ring binders and not very grabbable,” said Meriwether, who is an adjunct photography instructor at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen. “I figured it was just God’s way of editing out my bad work.”

The Meriwethers fled to No Name to stay with friends Dr. Teresa Platt and Fred Haberlein, the latter of whom was out of town. They didn’t get much sleep, however, because the Garfield County sheriff’s department evacuated No Name a few hours later. The Meriwethers ended up spending the rest of the night in a parking lot in Gypsum, and returned to Glenwood Springs via Cottonwood Pass.

Haberlein said he was in the southern part of the state painting his 120th mural when Platt called and asked, “What do you want me to take?”

None of Haberlein’s artwork made the cut, but an early painting by Paul Cezanne, one other painting and a Japanese print by Hokusai did.

Across Interstate 70 from Haberlein and Platt, Lacy and his wife Kathy were awakened by neighbors at 4 a.m. Kathy took care of gathering up things for their 18-month-old son Alexander, while Tom got photographs, artwork and a civil war sword owned by his great-great-grandfather.

“He was a captain for the north,” Lacy said. “Samuel Clemons was a friend. … He started the second newspaper in Colorado in Westcliff, in 1879.”

The Lacys stayed with friends in the discount shopping mecca of Silverthorne for three or four days, during which time they gave their credit cards quite a work out. “We charged like a wounded bull,” Lacy joked.

Lacy’s advice to others who may be evacuated some day, is to leave the artwork behind. “If you have insurance, don’t mess with it. … You beat it up getting it in and out of the car,” he said.

Up in the Oasis Creek subdivision north of Glenwood Springs, Neil and Karen MacDougal had two or three hours to decide what to load into their two vehicles. The first thing they asked each other was “What can’t we replace?” Neil said.

The answer to that question ended up being family photos, some artwork, important papers and Karen’s jewelry. Second tier items included several pairs of skis, ski boots, hiking boots, a mountain bike and golf clubs.

South of Glenwood Springs up Four Mile Canyon, Sean and Debbie McKenna made two trips out and took items that couldn’t be replaced, including photo albums, antiques that Debbie’s grandmother owned plus personal belongings and a bag of food.

Debbie also told their kids, 7-year-old Claire and 12-year-old Ryan, they could pick “a few things” to bring with them. “Claire came back with three back packs and four stuffed animals. She was ready. … Ryan didn’t bring as much. He brought his Play Station, Legos and some CDs,” Debbie said.

Debbie’s advice to future evacuees is, “It’s helpful to think about it ahead of time. We had a lot of time but it was still anxiety producing. Remember your irreplaceable items. Your insurance can buy you a new TV.”


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