Waves of wildfire evacuations strain hotels, volunteers, evacuees | Colorado Springs News

When Doug Bair and Cindy Meyer left Grand Lake Wednesday, the flames of the East Troublesome fire were 200 to 300 feet tall in the trees behind their house and they could feel the heat.

“It was so hot, the flames were white,” Bair said. 

They grabbed their medicines, clothes and important documents and got out. 

The two were among thousands forced to flee Wednesday and Thursday from the East Troublesome fire that blazed through thousands of acres, much of it beetle-killed forest. The fire had reached 188,079 as of Friday. 

Hundreds of evacuees fled to Red Cross evacuation centers where volunteers worked to book them rooms in hotels, a practice adopted to help prevent the spread of the virus, said Thea Wasche, sheltering director for the state.

For the Red Cross, this was the most recent wave of evacuees following three wildfire blowups in recent weeks, she said.

The waves of evacuations from Cameron Peak, CalWood, Left Hand Canyon and, most recently, the East Troublesome fires had increased the number of evacuees in hotel rooms, shelter beds and camper sites paid for by the Red Cross from 40 to about 1,900 people in two weeks, she said. 

The many flare-ups have been stressful for all involved, she said. 

“It’s unpredictable and it’s a never-ending cycle,” she said. 

After three weeks working with frazzled and emotional evacuees, she was ready to go home to Colorado Springs, she said. 

“I feel like an evacuee,” she said.

The recent evacuations, which emptied Grand Lake and Estes Park, have also put a strain on available hotels and required her to start sending some evacuees that fled east to hotels in Denver metro area, she said. 

Some evacuees have been forced from their homes multiple times as the fire season has stretched unseasonably late. 

Anna Bratton, 11, and her family are in the second week of their second evacuation from the Cameron Peak fire. It will also be remembered by her family as the birthday of Anna’s third sibling, a baby girl, her grandfather, Bill Chapman, said. 

Chapman’s daughter, Maria Bratton, was handling her circumstances well despite the COIVD-19 pandemic and multiple evacuations from her house west of Fort Collins. 

“She’s been like a rock,” Chapman said. 

Chapman and his wife left their home in Angel Fire, N.M., close to the 8,882 acre Luna fire, to care for his grandchildren during the birth, he said. Now, the family is hoping that in a few days the evacuation order will be lifted and the new mom can go home, he said.

“Bring on the snow,” he said. 

A few residents from Estes Park, a community as-yet-untouched by fire, were grateful that county officials decided to empty the town, despite the inconvenience. 

Estes Park resident Jessica Lewis said the community felt somewhat hemmed in with several fires burning simultaneously.

“We just feel surrounded. … I feel better down here, sleep better,” she said. 

Another Estes Park resident, Jon Anderson, also appreciated that officials called for evacuation, considering the traffic jam that slowed down the exodus. 

“They don’t want the whole town to burn in their cars,” he said. 

While many were just starting their evacuations, a few Cameron Peak evacuees got welcome news Friday — their evacuation orders were lifted. 

Frank Fournier was among those returning home. In his case, firefighters saved his home by stopping a spot fire in a field 1,000 feet from the house. The small fire was started by embers from the Cameron Peak fire. 

During his weeklong evacuation, his prayers were answered, he said. 

“The Lord saved our place,” he said. 

The Denver Gazette’s David Mullen contributed to this story. 

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