Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton gave the all clear for residents of South Fork to return to their homes, but because the fire was ACTIVE, we’d remain under in pre-evacuation status.
If we chose to return, we should leave our cars packed and backed into our driveways ready to pull out again on a moment’s notice. The shelter would remain open for those who did not wish to return.
Buster and Toby thought we’d moved permanently to the motel in Monte Vista. They’d climb in the car with us and wait patiently while we took our meals at the shelter for evacuees.
Undecided about what to do, after the Friday update, we made the trip to South Fork to check on our house. Smoke greeted us.
Heavy, mask-wearing smoke.
We left the dogs in the car and did a preliminary inspection. On the hill behind the house, we found a firebreak created by the firefighters.
The blank path is the firebreak.
We also realized how many trees and how much dead vegetation we had around our house.
Wouldn’t the wise thing be to stay where we were until the fire was more contained?
We took the dogs and went inside. Once we opened the front door, both dogs rushed to sniff around familiar surroundings. Toby jumped on our bed and watched as we discussed what to do.
After eight days in hotel rooms, the place seemed huge. With the windows closed, there was no smoke indoors. We had plenty of room to walk around. A kitchen to prepare healthy meals. Our own bed and pillows.
We decided to wait until after the a.m. briefing on Saturday and make our decision.
But once we returned to the motel, to living out of our suitcase in a cramped space, we knew we’d go home no matter what the report said the next day.
We arrived home around noon Saturday, June 29th, nine days after we’d been told to evacuate. The smoke had lifted some.
By Sunday morning, all smoke had lifted. The dogs and I went on our usual five-mile walk. I was amazed at how normal things looked. You’d never know behind the mountain peak beyond our house nearly 60,000 acres of the West Fork Fire burned.
We were glad we’d come home.
Then just to remind us who was in control, lightning struck a tree two streets away and caused a small fire.
A scary sign that, while we might have a roaring inferno behind us, a small lightning strike could start a closer fire.
For two weeks, we kept one car packed with what we wanted to save. The other car ready to be loaded with our clothes, food, and dogs when (if) the next evacuation call came.
Smoke came and went. Aviation planes flew overhead dropping retardant and water buckets, weather permitting.
Now the July monsoons have arrived. The fire crews are shrinking. Few planes are flying.
Yesterday containment was up to 66%.
Today a Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) team arrived to begin their initial assessments of the after effects and develop a strategy for emergency stabilization and rehabilitation.
Somewhere in our family history there must have been an expert in animal husbandry. That is the only explanation for our fascination with having baby animals.
We started with a leopard gecko-breeding colony complete with incubator in the closet. There was even a thermostat on the incubator to control temperature, which determined the sex of the baby lizards.
After the reptile phase, we moved into a rodent phase – the rodents being guinea pigs. We had around 30 of them at one time and even won some awards at local guinea pig shows.
Now we are in our fowl phase, and we are hatching eggs regularly.
The latest batch is the offspring of Samson and assorted chickens. Samson is our feather-footed rooster.
It was no surprise that the chicks have feathered feet. The crown of feathers on their head is what makes them interesting.
I think they look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
We arrived in Trinidad, Colorado, at three in the afternoon on the day of evacuation. We hoped we’d only be there for the weekend.
Unfortunately, the local evening news was not encouraging. We even made the national news.
The morning news offered no better outlook. Things were unchanged. The West Fork portion of the fire was spreading rapidly toward our little town.
Rather than sit in the hotel room or lobby glued to the television for news that was depressing, we decided to explore Trinidad
Lovely, lovely small town that helped divert our thoughts from what was going on.
By Sunday, we were tired of hearing about the fire situation from reporters on location. We needed to see firsthand what was happening. Plus, we’d seen the sites of Trinidad.
Praying the tourist who had come for the weekend would have checked out of motels/hotels closer to South Fork, we checked out of our Trinidad Holiday Inn (Great place to stay if you come up I-25 into Colorado, btw)
We loaded the dogs and suitcases into the car and headed back west to South Fork.
Ironically, there was also a fire burning in La Veta. The mountain pass we needed to cross to get home. Fortunately, there were no road closings.
Communicating between the cars via walkie-talkies, we made the three-hour trip closer to home, hoping to find a place to stay nearer Del Norte, where the Red Cross shelter was set up.
We found a motel in Monte Vista about fifteen minutes away. We also found friends and neighbors who had been there since the evacuation. Seeing friendly faces lightened our spirits.
On our way to check in at the shelter, we stopped by the Del Norte city park to see where news broadcasts were being made.
Looking at the map and seeing how close the fire actually was to our home did nothing to brighten our spirits.
My finger is pointing to the location of our house and the advancing West Fork Fire East that was encroaching. Again the stark reality of our situation sent shock waves through us.
Every morning we went to the Red Cross shelter for breakfast and informational briefings by the firefighter personnel. Pete Blume, Incident Commander, or his second in command went over maps showing the position and progress of three fires and reported on control and containment of the #1 fire in the U.S.
Blume explained that meant that whatever resources were available were at his disposal, but even with all those resources he’d be unable to extinguish the fires that made up the West Fork Fire Complex.
Every day we heard that there was zero containment or control, but that there had been zero structural damage or injuries. That boosted our spirits.
We returned every evening to the shelter for supper provided by the Salvation Army. Those personnel were kind, compassionate, and did everything they could to elevate our stress at the uncertainty of ever being able to return to our homes.
On the morning of the sixth day, we went to the shelter hopeful. The night before at supper, we’d heard rumors that the evacuation would be lifted.
Blume reported that a Dozier line had been formed behind Sentinel Peak from CO 149 to CO 160. That backfire line would be ignited if the West Fork blaze moved toward South Fork. He considered that a major step in the right direction. However, the Papoose fire had flared big time over night. He posted pictures from the blaze.
The news from Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton was not exactly what we hoped. The mandatory evacuation would be lifted, BUT we would be returning to an active wildfire area.
Uncertainty almost as palatable as the fear when we’d heard the mandatory evacuation order quieted room.
I heard the words “voluntarily returning to an active fire zone” and stared at this picture of the Papoose blaze.
The Red Cross shelter would remain open. The Salvation would be offering meals. We had a motel room seventeen miles away.
How could we return to our little house on the mountain knowing a roaring, unpredictable inferno that could easily erupt like the Papoose fire had loomed three peaks away with only a Dozier line to stop it?
Chickens are creatures of habit and head for the coop when the sun goes down. Each of them goes to their specified spot on the roost and settles in for the night.
This is their usual routine. This last week, however, was not usual for them. I was not there and things weren’t routine.
A couple of the larger birds, including a rooster, are spending part of their day in the bantam coop with the smaller birds. This causes some confusion in the evening routine now that I have returned.
One night, a large hen was in the coop with the bantams. She didn’t look particularly comfortable and didn’t complain too much when I extracted her and put her in the large coop.
The rooster was on top of the quail cage and this presented a more complicated problem.
With the dachshunds outside, there was a danger of the rooster going over the fence and “playing” with Bella. Even when running along the fence line, there is the possibility of its head sticking through the fence, which is too much of a temptation for Bella.
The first night, I just chased the silly rooster around until I caught it, screaming the whole time “Don’t go near the fence.”
Our neighbors – bless ‘em – have learned to ignore most sounds from our yard.
Last night, I got the dachshunds inside before I began the rooster chase. But, some of the other large birds find this spectacle very amusing and come back out of the coop to watch.
This means that once I have the rooster on the right side of the chicken yard, I must chase him and the other birds around the outside of the coop until they go inside.
Far more exercise than I really want right before bed. Ah, the joys of being a chicken wrangler.