Dual evacuation centers open amid expanded fire evacs
Post Independent staff
A second Red Cross evacuation center opened at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale Thursday morning, as the Lake Christine Fire continued to spread and officials ordered additional evacuations on the western flank of the fire area.
Evacuees from Missouri Heights and El Jebel began arriving at Roaring Fork High School as early as 2 a.m. Thursday. Ray Alexander, a volunteer at the shelter, said many of the displaced came with campers, and opted to sleep in the school’s parking lot instead of in the gymnasium.
Managers at the Carbondale-based shelter said the facility was well-equipped with breakfast and lunch, and Peppino’s Pizza had offered free donations to those who had been displaced by the blaze.
At 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, officials issued a mandatory evacuation notice for residents at El Jebel Mobile Home Park, after the fire took a sudden turn and crested a ridge, threatening to harm a more densely populated area above El Jebel.
Laydy Martinez, said she was driving from Glenwood Springs Wednesday night, and on her way home to El Jebel Mobile Home Park, she heard others were evacuating.
She and her family were only able to take their two dogs before leaving four birds at the residence.
“We’re very sad,” Martinez said. “We don’t know if our house burned down. We tried to go back and check, but they won’t let us through.”
Missouri Heights resident Judith Zwellich said she, her husband and their dog had signed up for Eagle County Alerts and were notified they needed to evacuate immediately around 1 a.m. Thursday.
“We were prepared, Zwellich said. “We brought a go-pack.”
She said when they woke up after spending the night at Roaring Fork High School, all they could do was wait on information regarding reenter their home.
Since pets aren’t allowed inside the evacuation shelters, Zwellich said she, her husband, and their dog had to sleep in their vehicle.
“They offered to put it in a shelter. But we did not want to do that,” she said of her dog.
Displaced residents at Basalt High School’s shelter were also still awaiting information on the status of their homes and date of return.
Jack, a Blue Lake resident who wouldn’t give his last name, said he and his wife had been watching television on Wednesday night when they looked out the window and saw houses burning across the street.
With 15 years of firefighting experience under his belt, Jack decided it was best for the two to pack up and evacuate, even though they hadn’t received an official notice.
“So, I know, you don’t save your house, you save your butt,” he said, adding he’s lived in the area for 22 years.
Jack knew that there was an established Red Cross shelter at the high school and said he and his wife thought it’d be the most convenient and safest place for them to sleep.
“It’s been marvelous,” he said. “They could not have treated us any better.”
Sharen Kurtz, Red Cross Disaster Services staff member, said she had prepared for a possible evacuation well before she received an alert from the town of Vail Wednesday night.
“A neighbor came in yelling ‘get out, get out,’” before she and her husband evacuated their home.
Her son had moved most of their belongings to a family member’s home in Glenwood Springs Wednesday afternoon. She only took necessities to the shelter in Basalt, including, water, a 72 hour kit, blankets, a radio, a flashlight, and sanitizer.
“The smoke was orange, coming down the hill, and I knew we had to go,” she said. “There were no if’s and’s or but’s,” she added.
Kurtz has worked with Red Cross for 13 years, offering disaster relief to people displaced by hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and fires, and she says this fire is different because roads are open, meaning the shelter empties during the day when people leave for work, filling up again at night after work hours.
Wednesday night, the shelter hosted 55 people, she said.
Rheta Strong, Red Cross disaster volunteer, and shelter manager at Basalt High School’s evacuation center, said the two shelters will likely not consolidate, and if they do, that change won’t come before Friday. Both shelters were to remain open Thursday night.
Strong said members of the community had come in crying but most had remained positive.
“We have so many positive people here,” she said. “What are you going to get out of being negative,” she asked.
By Thursday afternoon, the fire had burned more than 4,900 acres and a “prolific ember shower” had completely destroyed two mobile home parks in El Jebel, as well as a house in Missouri Heights, according to officials.
As of noon Thursday, 500 homes had been evacuated, though the number could continue to rise given the unpredictable nature of the blaze. It is still unclear how many people have been displaced.
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Current Basalt officials say the town government has violated the Colorado Taxpayers’ Bill of Right by increasing the property tax mill levy over the prior years 10 times since the mid-2000s. Two former mayors contend the mill levy could be adjusted in any given year as long as it didn’t exceed the mill levy in 1994. It’s a $2 million question.