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Shuttle buses connect evacuees with homes and pets

Lynn Burton

When evacuee Debi Billings stepped off the shuttle van with a laptop computer in one hand and her caged dove in the other, media members didn’t have to think twice about where their next interview was coming from.

“I didn’t close the windows when I left,” Billings told this reporter and a Denver television reporter who sidled in for the interview. “I was worried about the smoke.”

Billings, who lives behind the Red Mountain Inn in West Glenwood, was one of 1,000 evacuees who were shuttled from Glenwood Springs High School to their homes and back on Monday, so they could gather up a few belongings and check on their homes.

The shuttle vehicles came in all sizes and styles, from the spacious step-in mini-bus provided by Blue Sky Rafting, to the utilitarian yellow Roaring Fork School District van.

The evacuees started their brief trips back home by entering the Glenwood Springs High School lobby, which these days serves as the Coal Seam Fire public information center.

From the lobby, folks walked past information booths and through the school library doors, where yellow police tape funneled them to sign-up desks.

Volunteers jotted down the evacuees’ names and addresses, then it was on to the multi-purpose room to wait for their names to be called.

At mid-afternoon Monday, the room contained about 100-150 people, including toddlers who used the room’s wooden floors to practice their walking and stumbling skills, skittish dogs straining on their leashes, and a few folks at tables who stared off into space.

City Councilman Don “Hooner” Gillespie sat with his legs dangling off the stage and read off names of people when it was their turn to go.

“Teresa Hernandez … Bernice Rojo,” Gillespie called out.

When nobody responded to “Bernice Rojo,” Gillespie countered with, “080 Market Street.”

A young woman stood up and walked toward the stage.

“Did I screw up your name that bad?” Gillespie asked.

“Yes,” the smiling woman replied as she headed toward the side door.

Gillespie called out another name which didn’t register, then followed up with “1703 Midland .. 532 Traver Trail.” Another volunteer quickly said, “Okay, let’s go,” and that group was off.

Karen Vanthoff sat in a chair at the back off the room, waiting with her 9-year-old daughter Jasmine and the family dog, while husband Adriaan ate ice cream and shot the breeze with Gillespie up at the stage.

The Vanthoffs live on Rock Ledge Drive in West Glenwood, and had been waiting about a half hour to make their first trip home. “Hopefully, my husband will be able to get his truck and tools,” Karen said. “We’re going to feed the fish and get some clothes.”

The Vanthoffs have stayed at the Red Cross center on Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley Campus since Saturday night. When asked how it’s going up there, Karen flashed the “OK” signal with her thumb and index finger. “They’ve done a fabulous job,” she said.

Outside, a few minutes later, Billings was talking to reporters about her caged dove. “I put him in the little cage … they said if I could fit him on my lap I could take him out. He was raised by kids at Sopris Elementary School.”

Billings said each person in her trip was given 10 minutes at their homes while the shuttle vehicle waited, and the entire excursion, including the wait at the high school, took about 90 minutes.

“It was great … and just to see your house is okay is amazing,” she said.


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