Fire on the Mountain, Lightning in the air, Gold in them hills and it's waiting for me there.
– The Marshall Tucker Band
The one-year anniversary of the conflagration known as the Lake Christine Fire has passed with much introspection on my part. My story is much like other residents in the El Jebel area and I will give you my account a bit later, but here’s my brief personal history of fighting fire…
When I see or smell smoke where it shouldn’t be, I get twitchy. About 20 years ago, I helped put out a small but spreading grass fire up the Crystal. I was working with my friend who was a fellow noxious weed manager from the Front Range, and we were returning from a spray job off Highway 133. About three miles upstream from BRB I noticed a thin plume of smoke as we rounded a bend. I knew there were no homes in that stretch of road, and I told Mike we would need to check it out, fast.
We pulled up to the fire in the dry summer grass near the small metal clad, outhouse-sized building between the highway and the river. A truck with two workers had also just arrived and the men had their drinking water jugs splashing about as best they could. Mike and I were in a truck outfitted with several tanks for spraying weeds. One tank had 100 gallons of plain water; the others were mixed with herbicides. I always envied Mike’s well outfitted rig and that day it was a godsend!
We sprang to action. Mike quickly adjusted a few valves on the plumbing and cranked that 10-horsepower pump into full firefighting mode from the water tank. The other fellas grabbed our shovel and started chopping at the fire, throwing clods of dirt, making a small fire line (FYI always have a shovel on a truck). By this time the fire was at least 1,000 square feet in diameter.
Back in those days there was even worse cell signal in that area than today. Adrenaline allowed me to clamber up on top of the truck’s roof as I kept dialing 911. As soon as dispatch answered, the call would fail. I’d redial and scream FIRE UP FROM BRB, because as we all know that screaming into your old flip-phone improved transmission. At some point the lady heard enough and said help will be coming.
About the time the volunteer firefighters got there we had finished dousing the blaze. The crew mopped up what they needed to do before heading home. We all chuckled as one of them said (thinking we used an herbicide mix), “Well, I guess there won’t be any weeds here for a while, you scared them away for sure.” Mike and I were heroes!
So, fast forward to July 4, 2018, when dozens of true heroes saved El Jebel. “Balls of Steel” was my often uttered saying in the days following, especially when the details and videos of that night were released to the public. By the time several evacuated friends and their dogs arrived at my house that night to watch the firestorm, I was loading my business computers, files, and boxes of personal photos into work trucks. We shuttled vehicles down to the Waldorf School parking lot, hoping those extra three miles would be enough distance from the fire, just in case.
It seemed like we watched the fire into the wee hours of July 5. I can’t remember how I ever was able to sleep. It seems like such a blur now. Like others have said, the sounds of helicopters and sirens affect me differently now. Smoke from a campfire is unpleasant, for now.
As we walk the burn areas of Basalt Mountain, we are amazed at the lush growth coming back to many areas. The seed bombs we threw last October are hopefully helping a bit, but Mother Nature has responded beyond my wildest dreams. I am grateful, from the bottom of my heart.
Kim Bock continues to watch the sky for smoke plumes around El Jebel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org