After surviving Lake Christine Fire, Lane family battles flood and mud threat

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Indy Lane standing on the edge of his family's property in El Jebel that was destroyed by the Lake Christine Fire. The Lane family also encountered flash flooding from Saturday's storms creating mudslides on their property. Indy is wearing waders because earlier on Wednesday he attempted to save fish they had stocked in their pond with Colorado Parks and Wildlife crew members with only a success of about 6 fish survivng the mudslide.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The home and property of Ace Lane and his family survived a direct hit by the Lake Christine Fire through a combination of hard work and good fortune.

Now they’re hoping their luck holds out to prevent further damage by floods and mudslides.

Two short but intense deluges on Saturday sent tons of black water, mud, rock and ash tumbling down a steep ridge onto Lane’s 200-acre property across Highway 82 from Whole Foods Market.

It threatened a barn that includes affordable-housing residences, pumped tons of silt into a pond stocked with bass and blue gill and wiped out the majority of 8 miles of mountain-biking trail that included 2,300 feet of boardwalk features.

“It was like digging through chocolate pudding.” — Cory Ross

The flood would have wreaked more havoc if not for the action of Cory Ross, a jack-of-all trades at the property. Ross said the first rainstorm Saturday sent black water tumbling down four prominent gullies.

“The entire hillside was moving in water,” he said. “I said, ‘Time to get a Bobcat and see what I can do with it.’”

He dug a diversion ditch in front of the barn and apartments that prevented it from being overtaken by the mudslide.

“It was like digging through chocolate pudding,” Ross said.

No rain has fallen since Saturday but Indiana “Indy” Lane, the oldest of Ace’s three sons, Ross and others have been busy shoring up the property for additional debris flows. Ross used an excavator to build catch basins, check dams and smaller diversion features. Indy Lane worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to try to salvage some of the fish from the pond, but with little luck. Hundreds died. They found only five survivors. The pond needs to be drained and dredged to remove about 3 feet of sediment, he said.

The damage to the trail system forced the cancellation of Saturday’s Xterra Aspen Valley, an off-road triathlon, dualathlon and stand-up paddleboard triathlon. It was a fundraiser for the Sons of the Flag Burn Foundation in Dallas and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.

Caretakers of the Robinson Ditch, a major supply for irrigation in the midvalley, removed debris from an abandoned irrigation ditch on the Lane property. That old ditch holds a key to prevent sediment from filling the Robinson, which is lower on the slope.

Despite all the work, the Lane team is on edge because they know rain will fall. The size of the threat will depend on the rate the rain falls, Ace Lane said.

Dave Marrs, CFO of Geronimo Ventures LLC, which works with the Lane family on business issues, said an important ingredient in protecting the Lane property is getting the federal land-management agencies to address the drainages on their holdings higher on the ridge than the Lanes’.

“There’s opportunities up high to create diversions and catch basins,” he said.

The U.S. Forest Service has sent a Burned Area Emergency Response team into the field to assess the flood and mudslide potential in the Lake Christine Fire and the opportunities for easing the damage. A report will be shared with the Natural Resources Conservation Service so it can work with private landowners on steps they can take. Marrs has contacted the NRCS and is waiting to work on a plan with them.

Consultants for the Lanes determined there are four major drainages funneling water and debris onto the property from U.S. Forest Service lands above. There may also be Bureau of Land Management holdings.

The largest of the drainage basins is 125 acres, according to the work by Mountain West and Land West. The smallest is 14 acres. It splits and sends water and debris toward the El Jebel Mobile Home Park, but the mix was caught in a boulder field before it reached the residences, according to Mike McWilliam, undersheriff for Eagle County who recently toured the property.

McWilliam said extensive damage was caused by a small amount of rain. He said his office is concerned about damage to private property in case of a big rain event or several straight days of rain when the monsoon hits. Debris could even potentially affect Highway 82, he said.

Marrs said he hopes the federal agencies address drainage issues on their land soon rather than waiting several months. The Lanes were able to obtain flood insurance.

The Lake Christine Fire crested the ridge high above the property shortly after 9 p.m. July 4 and swept down to their property in a matter of minutes. Prior to evacuation, Ross and the Lanes activated their extensive irrigation system to wet their tree farm and pastures. Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson credited their action with helping slow down the wind-driven fire and likely helping save the mobile home park.

The fire swept right down upon the Lane’s property.

“Honestly, I wasn’t betting on any of our structures making it,” Indy said.

But the fire hit the irrigated lands and went around, destroying two houses farther west, off the Lane property. However, spot fires broke out on the Lane property throughout July 5. Roughly 15 family members and friends using water trucks supplied by Gould Construction and equipment at the ranch snuffed them. A federal fire crew was assigned to the property July 6.

Gazing down on the property from the ridge above on Wednesday, the core of the property was an oasis surrounded by scorched earth. Patches within the oasis and around much of the perimeter were burned.

“When you look at the burn line and what got saved, it’s amazing,” Indy said.

An underground structure with an above-grade roof that was used to store bonsai trees during the winter was lost in the blaze. The fire entered through a skylight. The cost to rebuild is about $118,000.

An estimated 74 of 200 acres on the property were burned. Marrs’ preliminary list of losses anticipates $600,000 to replace trees and irrigation equipment; $23,000 to repair and replace solar panels; $140,000 for lumber and labor to rebuild the bike trails; $270,000 for cleaning services for the smoke and ash cleaning at the residence, garage, apartment and barn; $10,000 on consultants fees; and $10,000 in various equipment that was burned.

The Lake Christine Fire was reported at 12,588 acres and 90 percent containment as of Wednesday morning.

One of the ironies of the fire is the Lanes have been among the hardest hit but they have also been one of the biggest contributors to putting it out. Helicopters have dipped out of Kodiak Lake, a water-skiing operation, since July 4 and continued Wednesday.

Ace Lane said the contribution is simply something you do to help your community. Downvalley irrigators have been patient, he noted, because extra water has been diverted to keep the lake full for the firefighting effort.

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