When volunteers with the Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District gathered for wildfire training on May 13, little did they know that the next day they’d be fighting the one of the largest wildfires in Larimer County’s history, started by a careless camper along Hewlett Gulch Trail within a few hundred yards of PCFPD’s Station One. Over the course of the following five days, PCFPD volunteers would play a key role in protecting threatened structures along the north bank of the Cache la Poudre River.
With some luck and help from Mother Nature — the wind blew predominately from the west and rain showers blanketed the area all day May 19 — Forest Service and volunteer firefighters from across the state and country were able to fully contain the fire on May 22. The fire burned 7,685 acres and cost an estimated $3.2 million to fight. But the best news is that no structures were lost.
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Along with several television media vans, the Larimer County Sheriff ’s incident command and a half-dozen Forest Service vehicles, residents evacuated May 17 from Poudre Canyon gathered at Ted’s Place about seven miles from the mouth of Poudre Canyon.
Evacuees in the Ted’s Place parking lot included Sandra Workman who’d loaded her daughter, Raphaella, along with her three dogs and one cat into her cramped SUV. Like many of the evacuees, she worried whether her home would survive the flames. Others were exchanging war stories with neighbors, including Poudre Park resident Charlie Wrobbel, who’d watched on May 14 as flames danced off the high cliff above Poudre Park residences.
Mishawaka server Jennifer Wetzler was there as well, with her SUV filled to the roof with donated food she’d gathered for evacuees from Famous Dave’s, Gib’s Bagels, Chili’s, Subway, Old Chicago and Olive Garden.
During the two-day closure of Highway 14 at the mouth of Poudre Canyon, Jim Veneble drove his Poudre School District bus the long way around via Livermore and Larimer County Road 68C to get Cache La Poudre students who lived in upper Poudre Canyon home safely. And Scott Jennings, new owner of The Forks in Livermore, pushed his gasoline delivery up so that gas pumps didn’t run dry.
Short on staff but big on heart, Western Ridge Resort and Restaurant owner Cheryl Franz fed 75 to 100 firefighters, most from Glacier View. And while her Poudre Park house was under eminent threat of burning to the ground, Jan Gueswel organized a meal for 150 firefighters.
Just neighbors helping neighbors.
A long list of professional Hot Shot firefighters and paid and volunteer fire districts from around the state provided frontline support at the Hewlett Fire. After we visited the May 12 tree planting at the site of the 2011 Crystal Fire in Buckhorn Canyon, our first words to first-responder and cohost Wes Rutt of the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department was amazement that any firefighter or firefighting equipment could access the often winding, narrow and guardrail-less Jeep trails that lead to homes perched high in Larimer County canyons and foothills. “We’re used to it,” he said. “It’s what we do.”
We’re thankful for generous neighbors who rise to the challenge during tough times. And we’re constantly amazed and thankful for the long hours and dedication that volunteer firefighters provide in protecting our homes and families.