When heavy-equipment owners and operators John Beckett and his son, Austin, contracted their services to the federal government, little did they know that work would involve defending their own home and business from the wind-driven flames of the High Park fire.
John Beckett, who owns and operates Custom Design Fabricators out of his family’s home on Star View Drive near Hewlett Gulch Road at CR 74E, was tabbed by the U.S. Forest Service at the start of the High Park fire on June 9 to provide a bulldozer to help build protective fire lines. About a dozen dozers were contracted by the Forest Service at the peak of the fire, with five dozers deployed north of the Poudre River. Contracted dozers typically have a Forest Service-employed dozer boss that directs the work. Beckett’s contract with the government is to provide transport, the dozer with driver — in this case Austin — and a chase truck with equipment and fuel.
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Austin had stationed the company’s semi tractor-trailer rig with the dozer onboard June 21 on North Rim Road, about 3-miles east of Glacier View Meadows, near the start of Kelly Flats Jeep trail. A prominent “Busses not allowed on this road” sign on a steep stretch of North Rim Road is a good indication that anything longer than about 14 feet will have problems with the numerous switchbacks. Not so for Austin, who’s had lots of experience driving tractor-trailer lumber trucks on narrow mountain roads.
From the North Rim Road vantage point north of the Poudre Canyon, fire spotters had a clear view of of Green Mountain to the east, where homes in Glacier View Meadows’ 12th filing sit.
The next day, winds had picked up — meaning the fire was much more active — so Austin was back on North Rim Road with a 50-person firefighting crew led by Forest Service personnel. Once the fire jumped the Poudre River at about 2:30 p.m. and starting advancing northeast up Steven’s Gulch toward Green Mountain, Austin and the firefighters were redeployed — in a hurry — to Gate 1 at Glacier View Meadows and then again farther east to Hewlett Gulch Road.
By 2:45 p.m. the fire was laying waste to homes in the 12th filing and advancing on the ninth filing, forcing fire command to defend neighborhoods farther east.
Although firefighters with the Glacier View Fire Protection District were able to save dozens of Glacier View homes, 53 homes were lost in Glacier View Meadows and four more were lost in the Deer Meadows/Helwett Gulch neighborhood.
Having been evacuated earlier that day with only dogs in tow, Rachael Beckett, Austin’s mom and John’s wife, watched and waved as Austin turned the semi-tractor and dozer onto Hewlett Gulch Road and into certain danger as the fast-moving fire approached. He was followed by John.
Four dozers were deployed at Hewlett Gulch Road on June 22, including Beckett’s. Heavy smoke covered the valley where their home sits when the two arrived for assignment and John had assumed the fire had already destroyed the home, shop and most of the equipment. Heading farther into the valley, John and Austin were relieved to find that the fire had gone around their property. But there was still plenty of firefighting yet to do.
“When you’re deployed and helping fight the fire, the priority is the task you’re assigned and you put your personal worries — like whether your house is safe — second, ” said John.
Guided by the dozer boss, Austin drove the dozer west to establish fire lines on the western flank while another dozer was tasked with plowing circular fire breaks around homes. Becketts had already dug fire lines around their home and shop and many of their neighbor’s homes several days prior to June 22.
“The hardest part about this whole experience has been witnessing the devestation and loss of some of our neighbors,” said John. “I probably worked on a third of the homes in Glacier View 12th filing — driveways, landscaping, foundations — so it’s tough to know that good folks are experiencing such bad things.”
But mountain dwellers are a tough lot in general, said Beckett, whose family has lived on Star View Drive since 1990. “There’s an attitude up here that we’re not gonna let this fire get us down. We’re rural, but still a close-knit community. When someone needs help, you help them. It’s that simple.”