Turning right at the stoplight of Hwy 82 and Two Rivers Road in Basalt I saw what I prayed I would not to see. White smoke. Ground fire. An entity that bears more than its seemingly fog-like appearance. 18 inches under the ground a Wildfire is raging. Susie, Robin and I begin to discuss the catastrophic potential of our backcountry with not even 24 hours of rain in 9 weeks. I feel uncomfortable, physically uncomfortable. My eyes are watering, I can’t seem to complete a full inhalation, the heat has a permeating force, I’m sweating at a stand still, and all around me these symptoms are becoming evident in every face I encounter. Thousands of acres of kindling that was ignited by an open gun range is now a part of our reality. Closer? It’s upon us.
It’s July 4th. Parade floats and celebrations are beginning in Aspen. Does the majority of the present population in this tourist destination from Mountaineers to Billionaires alike even realize what is going down? What can we do? What are we able to do? Food and water sounds like a plan.
Susie Krabacher, CEO and and Co-Founder along with her husband Joe, and Robin Hamill, President of Haitichildren.org head to home base in Woody Creek. I let them know I am going to the evacuation center at Basalt High School, hoping to gain information on the current status of…everything. I am aware that there is trouble in Haiti, but I try pushing thoughts of another disaster area out of my mind. The President of Haiti had just introduced much higher gas prices and the poverty stricken nation is beginning to retaliate. Roads, for the large part, impassable; rioting and looting are just beginning. Saving children in Haiti has been Susie and Joe’s mission for the last 25 years. Susie and Robin are starting to get first reports in from their staff members on the island. They are starting to formulate their plan of action, while at the same time making themselves one hundred percent available to spend the day helping get meals to hundreds of Carbondale.
I pulled up to the parking lot of The Basalt High School and got out of my car. The smoke has turned black, there is a spout of flames starting to reach skyward. Seven onlookers stand there nearby, also watching the horror and I start to comprehend what is happening. I run through the front doors of the school, so glad to see Joanie manning the Red Cross shelter. I know her. She’ll tell me where to start. I look around and she is alone at a desk. There are no cots set up, no families milling about, no tables of food and drink, no volunteers piling up. It’s a type of Ghost Town waiting for the masses. Standard protocol, no help needed, no information outside of The National Red Cross briefing. “Olwen, have you checked in with the Fire Stations,” Joanie kindly inquires. A beginning, that’s all I needed. You see, Susie, Robin and I are working outside of any agency, organization, Incident Command, or Station. We are three individuals who have had over three decades combined dealing with saving lives, watching human beings die after all resources available were utilized. Sometimes resources are inadequate or unavailable. We can only do our personal best in any given situation, crisis, intending to change the end result. We have set up every type of relief one could think of in one form or another, but during The Lake Christine Basalt Fire we were simply volunteers with valuable knowledge from years of service that we could share and use to ensure that the Firefighters, First Responders, Station Chiefs, Command, and the Community at large have enough food, hydration, medical supplies, all that we have known to be needed in the early stages of a disaster.
I run outside and five columns of fire have formed a Stonehenge – like resemblance above The Town of Basalt. A woman falls into my arms weeping. We watch the area around her house burn. Other’s come. We hold each other in disbelief, horror and grief.
I am calling Susie sharing that all we can do at this point is to offer shelter at our homes, and provide meals and volunteers; friends of ours and Mountain Rescue Teammates that are beginning to contact us and offer their time, bodies, automobiles, trucks, trailers, homes, anything they have to help. I am not surprised by the outpouring of love, support and aid from my Teammates. We are a family. We always have each other’s backs. We just haven’t been deployed, and although Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) always flies under the radar, I’m asking them to go off grid which, even though acting as private citizens, is a precarious situation. We are under the purview of The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. We are all very clear our protocols, regulations and by-laws. There is a line that is not to be crossed. I’ve put it out there that help is needed, which every member of this team will respond to because that is what we do: putting them at risk with our own Board, not to mention Pitkin County. We are volunteers on call 24/7 – 365 days a year. I’m asking for men and women who live, breath and think MRA every day of their lives to walk a very damn tight rope. If a member becomes visible as a volunteer working outside of Command of this event their anonymity as a volunteer is violated. There are enough of us that are not Full or even Support Team Members after years in that designation, so technically there shouldn’t be an issue. We love and respect our Sheriff and all the Deputies and members of his office that are part of each and every mission we are deployed. They are our Command. The outpouring of support, offers of help, in any capacity from members of MRA and their willingness to do so always takes breath away. They will always be my team, I will support and help them, if I’m ever asked after this…they are the most outstanding group of men and women I have ever been honored to serve with.
Susie, Robin and I agree to meet at Whole Foods and we go through “must have list”, with which we are all familiar. What the community is in need of is State of Emergency.
Rescuers coming in from the field need food. More food than you can imagine. Cases upon cases of liquids. Everything has to be ready to grab and go. There is no time to sit down. There never is enough time. I’m ordering as many casseroles, salads, cases of water, vitamin enhanced water, soda, anything I can get my hands on. Bree and Aaron, two of the Senior managers at Whole Foods, hear me speaking, well … pleading emphatically, to the staff behind the prepared food section. THEY MAKE IT HAPPEN; thousands of dollars worth of supplies are coming with me to Basalt Station. Aaron puts his hand on my shoulder and assures me that all food and hydration needs for the Firefighters, for the duration of “The Basalt Fire”, will be donated by Roaring Fork Whole Foods Market in Basalt. I choke out a “thank you” and drive to The Basalt Fire Station.
“No, we have enough food here, take all this to Command at “The El Jebel Station”. I’m starting to feel as though I’m running in circles. I pull up to Command, let them know who I am, what I have in my car, and ask what else can be done? I’m looking at tables of food, boxes among boxes of supplies, that needed to be made up into 350 pack lunches for the teams and delivered back by 7:00 am – 07/05/18. No problem…….then I headed home.
Photos Courtesy of Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times
Photos Courtesy of Craig Turpin/Aspen Daily News
Olwen S. Thomson BIO – Volunteer at Mountain Rescue Aspen; Secretary to the Board of Real Women Aspen; Member of Lead with Love, Member of Aspen City of Well-Being; Volunteer Haitichildren.org.