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Heroes on the other front line

Dale Shrull

It’s day three of the Coal Seam Fire.The panic has subsided, emotions are settled a bit and life goes on.Most evacuees were allowed to go back to their homes to pick up clothes, medicine and other necessities. For people whose homes were close to the fire, it felt wonderful to open the front door and soak in the premises.A smokey odor permeated from our house but otherwise it was like we’d been on vacation.Power is being restored. Workers from KN Energy, AT&T, Qwest, the city of Glenwood Springs and other agencies are scattered throughout West Glenwood hard at it. They are checking lines, gas meters and repairing the utilities for when evacuees can head back home for good.For evacuees, time drags on without flow. Residents watched and cheered the slurry bombers early in the day, then waited for word of when they could return home.The volunteer effort is amazing: smiling, cheerful and sympathetic folks helping wherever they can. Many of these people could be home or at work, taking care of their own lives; instead, these caring folks have come to help others. They came to help the people who have lost homes due to the unmerciful fire, and others are happy to have homes still standing but still can’t go home.The patience of the volunteers is impressive. Question after question, the volunteers are bombarded, but they help the best they can.Glenwood Springs City Council members appear to be on the volunteer beat round the clock. Don Gillespie is steering people in the correct direction with the skill of a big-city traffic cop. Jean Martensen, with her ever-present smile, lends a helping hand at every turn. Mayor Don Vanderhoof seems to never be out of sight. The same can be said for West Glenwood resident and State Rep. Gregg Rippy, who’s just like so many of us – an evacuee.The faces are many, the list of names too large to mention here. This is their town, these are their neighbors. They didn’t have to be asked to lend that helping hand.Everyone is trying to be as helpful as they can. Information is what evacuated homeowners crave. A little bit of help goes a long ways. A simple “thanks” doesn’t seem to be enough. But it has to be for the moment. Most evacuees have so much on their mind.As the city and the county started to arrange for residents to get back into their homes, vehicles and drivers were needed. With the water closed to rafting, the drivers of local companies flocked to the high school to lend their unique brand of aid.Eager, patient and helpful, drivers like Jeff Wilson from Blue Sky came to the rescue. Their help made the operation run so much more smoothly.He and the other drivers didn’t have to be there. Jeff lives in downtown Glenwood Springs. He could have taken it easy, watched TV, done a number of things. But he chose to come help people who don’t have anything else to do but wait.We all remember to thank the brave and dedicated firefighters. But we sometimes forget about the people on the other front line: the front line of information and sympathetic help.I for one would like to offer a massive thanks to all of you. Thanks for doing your best in steering us in the right direction and answering our questions. Thanks for putting up with our frustrated tones and sleep-deprived tempers.The same thanks needs to be offered to the countless number of neighbors who have offered food, shelter and other amenities.Even on Day 3, as the smoke begins to float away, the tragic stories continue to filter in. As residents survey the damage or devastation, stories pull at your heart.As I took a ride to our home to pick up a few belongings, another family stopped at their home in Storm King Mobile Home Park. The Latino family has only been in the small trailer for a short time before the fire struck. With the back of the trailer and most of the inside gutted, the woman did not take the van ride to collect her belongings. She came in search of one item.Speaking in Spanish, she explained to another Latino of her hope. She had stored her cash savings in her Bible and tucked it under the mattress. The man jumped through a window and after several minutes emerged with the cash. The women smiled widely and thanked him.On the return trip, the woman wept softly. She had retrieved the small stash of money, but everything else had been lost.As I prepare to go back to my home, I will never forget these stories and the people who lost so much. I will also refuse to forget the men and women who came to lend a hand when fire raged around Glenwood.Let’s all hope we will never see another day like June 8, 2002.Dale Shrull is the editor of the Citizen Telegram in Rifle.


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