Coal Seam Fire brought out the best in us |

Coal Seam Fire brought out the best in us

What a difference a year makes.

On June 8, 2002, a long-burning underground coal fire broke through to the surface and ignited nearby oak brush. Once the small flame found its way to the parched land, the fire was boosted by high winds and spread quickly.

Within hours, thousands of residents and visitors were overwhelmed by heat, smoke and fear.

This was the Coal Seam Fire. It was a day that summoned the brave and generous. It was a day that inflicted personal suffering and loss.

Looking back is scary. The fire disrupted life. Slurry planes flew overhead. Hundreds of firefighters camped in our parks. Fire on the hillsides surrounding Glenwood continued to burn and filled Glenwood with smoke.

People’s homes and all their belongings had been lost. Some folks had been forced to flee, without the time to grab a photo album or family pet.

In the weeks that followed, locals anxiously peered over their shoulders. The drought-plagued terrain was still vulnerable, and therefore we were vulnerable. As the summer went along, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief, but a feeling of unrest remained. Floods later threatened the beat-down residents of Mitchell Creek.

The Coal Seam Fire, albeit catastrophic when 29 homes were destroyed, spared us the loss of life. The Storm King Fire in 1994 claimed the lives of 14 firefighters. A beautiful memorial in Two Rivers Park honors those brave men and women who became our local heroes.

While Coal Seam caught us off guard and gave us a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs, it also brought out the best in people. Firefighters, emergency personnel, law enforcement, neighbors and friends united to fight the second fire in a decade that threatened to destroy the community’s spirit.

The one-year anniversary of the Coal Seam Fire stirs memories. The blaze taunted us and still haunts us.

The fire didn’t prevail. Glenwood Springs did.

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