Byline Burton |

Byline Burton

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Coal Seam fire, it is this: There are three smart ways to reach Glenwood Springs when you’re stranded in Silt and Interstate 70 is closed in both directions. There is also one stupid way.The smart ways are south out of Silt on county roads to Paonia: via the DeBeque cutoff off I-70, south to Mesa, then to Paonia or somewhere over there on county roads; off I-70 to the south at Highway 65, over the Grand Mesa to Cedaredge, then on through Paonia.The stupid way from Silt to Glenwood Springs is through Rifle, north to Meeker, east to Yampa on the scenic byway, south through Wolcott, then south out of Eagle on Brush Creek Road, and on to Thomasville on a dirt road with no name except for one sign that says “Caution: Logging Trucks,” then down the Fryingpan to Basalt, and on to Glenwood Springs on Highway 82. Total travel time – about eight hours.Wanna take a wild guess which route I chose last Saturday night, while the biggest natural disaster ever to hit Glenwood Springs was being played out?One reason I took the stupid route, is I’d never driven the scenic byway between Meeker and Yampa, and the word “byway” to me means something other than “twistier than spaghetti that sticks to the wall when you fling it there to see if it’s cooked.”Then there was the state of I-70 Saturday night. It didn’t dawn on me until I saw that 300 pound black bear near the Trapper’s Lake turn off, that the interstate might still be closed when I reached Wolcott.The primary topic of conversation at the Kum & Go in Eagle at 11 p.m. last Saturday night was that you couldn’t get to Glenwood from there. The Eagle police had told the young clerk there that there was no way into Glenwood Springs, although people could get to Rifle.”Look here,” I told her as I unfolded the map, excited to share this information about Colorado’s back roads. “You head out Brush Creek Road, then over to Ruedi and Basalt.””Is Basalt near Glenwood?” she asked. “The police said you can’t get there.”The middle aged, dumpy guy who was hitting on the clerk mumbled “Good luck,” as I charged out the door. “You’re going to need it.”And he was right.There was a fair amount of luck involved in negotiating an unfamiliar dirt road, late at night.At one point, the road took a hard left, and I nearly drove straight ahead into a group of campers. Hallucinations spaced about 30 minutes apart produced other near accidents. I was the only idiot on the road, although I swear a guy tried to crawl through the passenger side window at one point near Thomasville.The only good thing I can say about this part of the trip was at least the road didn’t turn into a four-wheel-drive road.Oh yeah, I picked up the Laura Ingram radio show out of Salt Lake City. Ingram is the funniest, most sarcastic, right wing, blonde lawyer chick in the country, and she’s been missing of late. It was good to hear her again.It’s still impossible for me to comprehend how the Coal Seam fire blew up so quickly, and spread so far and so fast.I drove by Ami’s Acres in West Glenwood Springs at about 5:30 p.m. Interstate 70 was still open in both directions. There was a little patch of flames between the Colorado River and I-70, east of South Canyon, but it didn’t seem to be spreading, and the hillside to the south looked burned out.By the time I made it to New Castle, then back east to the Canyon Creek exit, which was backed up for 200 yards, I-70 was closed in both directions.At about 6:15 p.m. I made it to Silt, where I called the Post Independent newsroom to check in. Charlie Wertheim said Midland Avenue was being evacuated. As the night continued up on the Flat Tops, I picked up static-riddled fire reports on KMTS.The Post Independent got put to bed just after 1 a.m. on Sunday. Dennis Webb, Charlie Wertheim, Greg Mass, Phil Sandoval, Tamie Meck, Jim Noelker, Roy Willey, Heather McGregor, Valerie Smith and others did an incredible job at putting out the paper that night. Wish I’d have been there.

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