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A lesson learned, a lesson applied

It was the spring of 2002. All the fifth-grade classes and their teachers at my daughter Amber’s school were on an overnight campout. Some of us parents went along to help.

Portraying the historic character of Jasper Ward, I gave local history talks with Amber at my side dressed as my daughter Allie Ward.

But after we had performed, there was something gnawing on me. Call it a hunch, intuition or a gut feeling. With age and maturity I’ve learned to pay attention.



The feeling came from years of experience in watching Mother Nature all year long, wondering what kind of fire season we’re in for every summer. Although only a fool would try to predict what Mother Nature is going to do, it felt like a bad year.

So I pulled Cory Scheffel aside and asked him for a few minutes to talk to everyone – teachers, students and parents. The subject was wildfire safety. Cory agreed it was a good idea.



Standing with the great outdoors as my backdrop, I wanted everyone to understand the seriousness of the topic at hand. But for me, learning is best done in the spirit of fun. By asking interactive questions and telling stories, you engage others.

In trying to drive home the importance of following evacuation orders during a wildfire, I told a story from my experience as a safety officer.

The story was about a fire on the Uncompahgre Plateau.

We had moved fire camp once, only to have the fire threaten it again. Retardant planes were making drops along one side of our camp to protect us.

There were houses scattered among the trees near fire camp. The incident commander and I had just evacuated the homes in the area and were standing at a roadblock. Suddenly a civilian in his car raced around us and the barrier across the road.

“Go get him, Bill,” the IC shouted. I was already on my way. His house was visible from the roadblock, and running to intercept him I arrived at the front door a few steps behind him.

“Sir, you are in grave danger. Get out now.” I ordered the man. You could hear the freight train roar of the fire bearing down on us. I led him to the door only to have him bolt back into the house.

With a “deer-in-the-headlights” look in his eyes he grabbed a radio as I pushed him outside. The crown fire rushed past us a hundred feet away.

“Never go back for anything if you ever have to leave your home,” I told a very attentive audience. “Nothing is worth your life,” I said, “Especially not a $20 radio.”

There was no way of knowing that one of the moms present that day would lose her home in the Coal Seam Fire.

“I thought of your words that day as we headed out the door, and I never looked back,” she told me later.

Thank God for the power of stories, and feelings.


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