A spirit that transcends fire | PostIndependent.com

A spirit that transcends fire

Dennis Webb

Whoever said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger had people like the victims of the Coal Seam Fire in mind.

When that fire tore into Glenwood Springs June 8, it destroyed 29 homes. Over the last week, the Post Independent has revisited some of the families uprooted by that disaster and found stories of inspiration and strength at every turn.

Undaunted by the 1994 Storm King Fire that threatened their homes and the 2002 Coal Seam Fire that claimed them, many of the families already have begun the rebuilding process on their properties. Troy Gordon and Michel Field moved into their new home this weekend. The couple also decided to go ahead with a planned wedding this fall, rather than let the fire force its delay.

Troy is part of a larger extended family of others who are rebuilding, including Jim and Janice George. Both his family and hers, the Amichauxs, go back a century in the valley, and they never gave much thought to doing anything but staying put.

Far up Mitchell Creek, Stan and Carole Rachesky have set about reopening their bed and breakfast, albeit on a rental property. The two plan to eventually rebuild on their own property, after a year in which Stan has sprung back undaunted not only from fire but from health problems.

These are just some of moving stories arising out of the ashes of Coal Seam. It’s one thing for adults to have to go through loss and rebuilding, but quite another to ask the same of kids. Yet we learn that children like Cody and Natasha Derby and the four Inglehart kids have faced this summer’s test with a maturity beyond their years, and with the help of family, friends and faith.

Children and adults alike reminded us of what really matters when disaster strikes. They lost material possessions, but not each other.

Hearing the Derby kids or Glenwood firefighter Chris Caywood describe the death of their cherished pets in the fire as the hardest part of their ordeal gives us all crucial perspective during this Thanksgiving week.

While our hearts go out to all residents in the Mitchell Creek area who faced not only fire, but continuing anxiety due to a threat of mudflows that has not yet ended, resident Sue Hakanson points out that none of it compares to the death of 14 firefighters on Storm King in 1994.

The story of Coal Seam also is a story of one volunteer firefighter, Caywood, who lost his home while helping protect others. Every Coal Seam fire victim has had different levels of success obtaining insurance compensation, and Caywood’s coverage was insufficient to enable him to find a new home, at least for now. This summer, valley residents donated to a fund drive run on Caywood’s behalf by area fire departments. While Caywood isn’t asking – he’s used to giving to others rather than receiving from them – his is a cause deserving of our continued compassion.

The community’s charity toward all the fire victims already has been exemplary, to hear the victims themselves describe it with great gratitude. One has come to expect no less from a community that has endured, and risen above, more than its share of tragedies over the years.

The community response to Coal Seam is testimony to human spirit. It’s the same spirit that has helped the fire’s victims move forward after catastrophe. While it’s hard to imagine ever being in their shoes, we could only hope in such circumstances to be boosted by the same spirit, and to likewise be able to keep our chins up, our eyes looking forward rather than behind.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.