Grand Lake had a big scare on June 28th, 2018 and I this is my personal experience.
On Thursday afternoon, I left the lobby of the Rapids to check something in a room and I noticed a wisp of smoke on the horizon directly West of us, over the hill near the Grand Lake Golf Course. By the time I returned from the guest room, the plume of smoke had thickened and broadened and was an ugly dark color. I immediately phoned my Columbine Lake home to warn them that there was a fire and it was rapidly growing; they should prepare in case of evacuation orders. Not long after that, I received word homes along the golf course road and in the southern section of Columbine were being evacuated. Those of us who lived in the area, dropped everything and hastily raced home.
On the way home, my car thermometer read 87 F, and that didn’t change with further driving later in the day. It was so very hot for a Grand Lake summer day, usually in the mid 70’s. The wind had also kicked up.
I stopped at a friend on the way home for a second. They were already throwing things in the car and they told me that a man on the horse had ridden by to warn them that although they weren’t in the line of fire, they probably had 45 minutes before formal evacuation orders were in place.
On arrival home, I instantly started reviewing my “fire” list: files, important documents, photo albums, computer….. and if I had time, clothes, water and a little bit of food. The mandatory evacuation call came in. We hooked up the little sail boat figuring that at least we could live in that if we had to for a while, cramped and basic though it would be.
At the time of our hurried departure, I noticed a neighbor had not begun packing their car and banged on their door, alerting them to the mandatory evacuation. A staging area had not been selected at that time and we decided to not clog up town but rather to head down to the Stillwater boat ramp to the south. Amazingly, when we got there, friends texted to say they had been offered a house to stay in and did we want to join them. Yes!
It was nerve wracking watching the smoke, the spotter plane, the helicopters with water bags and the slurry bombers. The big planes took several passes to determine the air flow and line up for dropping fire retardant, then they would disappear below the tree line as they flew the dangerous path to quell the fire. We heard a little later the slurry bombers had to be sent home because a drone was being flown and making it too dangerous for the big planes. Soon the smoke began to diminish and we enjoyed a beautiful moonrise before turning in for a restless night.
In the morning we were relieved that the smoke had dissipated from our fire, although the sky was hazy from the larger fire far to the south of us. By early morning, the smoke began to clear and the afternoon was beautiful. The evacuation order remained in place until 7pm that evening as they worked to douse hotspots and ensure conditions didn’t change and cause flare-ups.
We were so happy and relieved and grateful to sleep in our own beds Friday night!
The Grand Lake Recreation Area and Golf Course had done extensive tree clearing on the south side of golf course road last fall and winter. If they hadn’t done that, this story might have turned out very differently.
The Town of Grand Lake was never affected thank goodness. Businesses stepped up to help the evacuees among many other volunteers. The Grand Lake Center became the staging area for evacuees with food, refreshments and cots. Not many people end up staying there because in this lovely, little town, many of the community members took so many people into their homes.
Hotspot work continued for days to ensure no further flare-ups. The Town of Grand Lake wisely cancelled the 4th of July fireworks and we were grateful for that decision. A stage 2 fire ban is in place and the air is dry and hot. Do your rain dance folks! So much of Colorado is under pressure from wild fires and we hope everyone stays safe, and that all the amazing folks fighting those fires stay safe, and start to make some headway.