Insider view of the south side of the Silver Creek Fire

photo by Hannah George Standing dead: burnt out trees from the Silver Creek fire. An assessment of the impact and total damages of the fire will be done later.
photo by Hannah George Standing dead: burnt out trees from the Silver Creek fire. An assessment of the impact and total damages of the fire will be done later.

by Hannah George
“Silver Creek Fire” they called it when it started on July 19th up in the Sarvis Creek Wilderness area – just a couple of acres, really. We in Grand County learned of it as something else. It lurked and lingered like some half-forgotten nightmare. Then it was 53 acres. And then 82. And then on August 13th that number hit a shocking 3,198 acres. That’s when Latigo Ranch was issued an evacuation notice. As the Silver Creek fire crawled through the national forest toward Old Park Subdivision, they were also under evacuation.

The firefighting efforts were nothing short of heroic. Hundreds joined
the team beating the flames back from the fire’s course to destroy homes and leap property lines.

You all know the story: many of you lived it. A few quiet days, the fire quieted down, you got to go home, the Latigo crew returned to Latigo, the personnel on the fire dwindled into the twenties… and then the Silver Creek Fire woke back up. However, it didn’t threaten any structures for most of its run. It was just burning the forest. But, to us, the forest isn’t just a bunch of trees to be protected. It isn’t some backwoods where a bunch of rednecks go hunting. This is our home. The federal government owns the land, the Division of Wildlife owns the animals, and the US Forest Service owns the trees, but sure as anything, these woods are ours. And it was heartbreaking to watch them go up in flames.

This forest isn’t just a recreational outlet for locals and tourists; it holds the memories of hundreds of Christmas trees, thousands of camping trips, and our lives in the mountains. We were inconvenienced by the evacuation, it’s true. That inconvenience was nothing to the fear and anxiety which pricked our hearts when our very houses were in reach of the Silver Creek Fire.
Losses to date: over 19,000 acres and over $20,000,000.

It’s the West. We knew what we signed up for: cold winters, thin air, hard earth, scrubby sage, frequent drought and, of course, wildfires. We calmly got out of the way and waited until we could come home again. The land is still t he same; the rocks and crags and hills. I t will take a few years, and the scars of this fire will never truly fade in our lifetimes, but it will look more like home again someday.

We never really know our neighbors until something like this comes along. We wave, say ‘hi’ at the post office, and comment when they’ve changed something about their house or yard. It isn’t until you have to find a home for your livestock, or somewhere to house fifteen Latigo staff, or are ankle-deep in ash while you help fix fence, that you truly begin to understand what it means to be a neighbor. The generosity and patience, grace and fortitude, shown by the residents of Grand County this summer has been absolutely breathtaking.

However, we didn’t lose Old Park Subdivision and we didn’t lose Latigo Ranch.

Those of us who live here, who’ve carved our homes in the Rocky Mountains and who appreciate them for what they are… we’ll pull our collars up, our hats down, and just keep on riding.

And, knowing our neighbors a little better, we know we won’t be riding alone. Our thoughts and prayers are with those at the growing northern end of the Silver Creek Fire, and the first snowfall can’t come soon enough..

Running red: an aspen covered in flame retardant. Firefighters reporting seeing aspen trees burst into flame during the course of the fire. photo by Hannah George