Coal Seam soul-searching: Readers share thoughts
On Sunday, we asked Post Independent readers to share their experiences and thoughts from the Coal Seam Fire. Here is what is on people’s minds.
Some things have been put in perspective in the past week. Beyond life and limb, the more important inanimate objects are papers and photographs. If they’re on the computer, then the computer, please. A pillow, sleeping bag, and toothbrush are up there with a change of clothes and hair brush … and don’t forget the debit card. Be thankful for escaping with whatever you’ve got.The coincidence of flame and wind were deadly. Under calm conditions, would the fire have begun, much less spread as it did? Starting in the west, on the north side of the Colorado River, “burned” is adjacent to “unburned.” Notice that the Dever property at the old golf driving range was burned, but the fire stopped, then another burn began near and around Ami’s Acres.As the afternoon dragged on, with smoke to the west, the winds shifted more eastward and fires could be seen “spontaneously” appearing on the Wulfsohn property. At some point, the unirrigated corner of our lot was ablaze. With the help of John Haines, family members, partygoers down the street and a 120-foot garden hose, the fire was dowsed before it could do untold damage to the neighborhood.Thank you, everyone! In this whole area, we were so lucky to have coincidence of fire and the resources to extinguish it.One could muse about the true source of all this. The Olympic flame burns undying from Athens to the current Olympic site to give the games their spirit. So was this “coal seam” part of the 1918 disaster that killed hundreds in New Castle? Or was this one of many small workings that ignited like the one west of New Castle, that in the winter appears to be steam on the side of the hogback? How sad is the story?On the day this began 100 years ago, who would have guessed such a delayed reaction? If we reap what we sow, then shouldn’t the energy in the coal beds be put to better use? Either tap into the heat source or put it out. At the very least, monitor the activity. Others may not be as fortunate as we.Fred StewartWest Glenwood
In response to the events in Glenwood Springs and other areas of Colorado, I feel that this is true, yet not so. The sense of urgency to live has melted into a deeper appreciation for life once again, now as a result of the fires in our community backyard and homes.I hear the sounds of helicopters hovering over us, protecting us and successfully curtailing the inferno on the Flat Tops, and I find a security in these sounds. We are being protected with the finest of equipment handled by competent and experienced firefighters, yet there is a sense of helplessness when Mother Nature has her way.I see the blackened mountains and a community threading together. What is woven is the helpfulness and generosity of so many people.The church bells are ringing and a train is approaching the station. This fine tuning of the appreciation for life, and our relationships in it, is accompanied by the sadness for those who suffered material loss.We have all been singed and there will be some scars. The healing will take time and some things cannot be replaced, but perhaps the value of our lives will manifest itself in our regard and respect for each other in moments to come.Bells are ringing now, it’s the ice cream man! Our lives go on, and we know a little more of ourselves, our vulnerability and our need to live in support of one another. I love what makes the Community of Glenwood Springs. Thank you.Annig RaleyGlenwood Springs
When I drove away from my home in Mountain Mobile Home Park, shortly after 6 p.m. on June 8, the sky was a robin’s egg blue in front of me, but the street was smoky and dark, the air speckled with ash that looked like snow. I clearly remember turning my headlights on.As I turned north onto Center Drive, nearly running into a Glenwood Springs police vehicle working to evacuate everyone (they did a fantastic job of getting everyone out quickly and safely!), I looked over towards my house and saw the blackness behind it, obliterating everything.I thought then that I would never see my home again, but I didn’t cry. I had escaped safely after frantically chasing and finally catching two terrified cats. Nothing else mattered now.I turned east onto Highway 6 & 24, my back now to the fire. Moving steadily but slowly down the road packed with silent, fleeing vehicles, the air all around turned to a strangely beautiful orange with thick ash floating in the air, dancing crazily to the fierce, driving wind.When I turned onto the bypass, I saw the sky again, wildly blue and clear to my left. To my right, that towering cloud of black smoke completely blocked any sign of Center Drive. I didn’t look back again.To the firefighters of Station No. 1, West Glenwood Springs, who parked in front of my home for two days, and all the other firemen I have yet to learn of, you did the impossible and saved not only my home, but my neighborhood and our town. You have my never-ending gratitude, my deepest respect and complete admiration.With humble appreciation,Kristi ChapinWest Glenwood
We were scared of the Coal Seam Fire. We were afraid it would come all the way to New Castle.The fire came over the ridge and it was burning very fast. We thought we would have to leave our house.But then the tanker planes flew over and started dropping slurry on the fire. We waved at the planes and yelled. The fire stopped and we felt safe.We want to say, “Thank you,” to the pilots who flew the planes. You did a very good job!Sami Steuben, 9Amanda Steuben, 7New Castle
Hal Coombs, Lathan Johnson and Mike Ottosen, federal firefighters stationed in Eagle, participated in initial attack on the Coal Seam fire. They recollect vividly the hour after it spotted across Interstate 70 behind Ami’s Acres.”The fire moved so fast that we barely had time for evacuation. There was no time at all to prepare homes. Defensible space made a huge difference,” said Johnson. “Sometimes as a fire approaches, we can help homeowners do a few of these preparations last minute, but it’s less likely in a fast-moving fire environment like oak,” said Johnson.”As we were evacuating people, we saw spot fires starting in planters, under decks, in piles of fire wood” he added. One hazard they watched for closely was propane tanks with fuel nearby. “We heard a few of those blowing up,” said firefighter Ruby Failing, from Silt.Bob Leighty, Fire Management Officer for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit, said firefighters train to put safety first, always.”In a fast fire, we have to triage – decide quickly which homes we can protect when there is very little time,” Leighty said. “We look for defensible space – the same things homeowners can evaluate before the fire starts. We have difficult choices sometimes. And if it isn’t a safe area for firefighters to work, we can’t stay.”Coal Seam Fire information team
Around 5:15 p.m., the smoke was thicker, darker, and even closer, covering the sun, making it a scary bright red color. It started to snow ashes in our yard. Then the cops came through, with sirens on, and yelling to get out immediately, because the fire was here. I looked outside, and saw fire on the mountain above our house.We got in the truck, our neighbors were walking, and we picked them up. Then, as we pulled out of the driveway, we saw 15-foot flames in our neighbor’s backyard. We were very scared. We finally got to our friends’ house, and we stayed there the night.My dad was positive our trailer was gone. We didn’t want to admit it, but we had to face the facts. We talked about all the memories we had lost, and all the irreplaceable objects lost. We even joked around a little bit to make the best of our hard time. At the dinner table, my dad talked about the hallway with all our pictures of us growing up, and he said to never forget that hallway, and we all broke up in tears.The next morning, I was awakened from the nightmare. My dad told us that our trailer was OK, only our fence had burned. But he did say some of our neighbors’ houses had burned down to the ground. I felt so bad.Later, they let us take a tour to see our houses. We saw many neighbors, some with sad faces, one with a very sad face, we told him his house was fine. He was so relieved when we told him, but then there was another great guy who just moved in, his girlfriend’s son and daughter were pretty good friends of mine. We had to tell him the bad news of his trailer being destroyed. He was really disappointed.We took the tour, and the first houses that were burned were in our neighborhood. It was sad. It was like a ghost town. Usually there are kids riding bikes and playing in the streets, and the burned houses were so sad. We could see the cars, and the bikes, and the bunk beds, there was the fish tank all twisted and charred.My brother Aaron and I were talking, and he said, “If there really is a God out there, why isn’t he doing anything to prevent this?” But then I did realize when our house was saved. We heard on the radio that this was the No. 1 priority in the nation. President Bush was informed of this fire, and the top firefighters in the United States were helping on this fire.It was a very scary experience, one that I will never forget. But we had each other, and we were all safe.Adam Hughes, 16West Glenwood
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