Lake Christine Fire efforts bring home a new meaning of ‘hero’
The Aspen Times
The word “hero” has an entirely different meaning to me after covering the Lake Christine Fire the past two weeks as photographer for The Aspen Times. I have read stories, watched heroic encounters on the news and in theaters, but to witness heroism first-hand like what the firefighters accomplished with the Lake Christine Fire still seems surreal to me.
I’ve taken facility tours of our local fire departments and been to events held at the stations but being among these brave men and women performing real heroic acts to save their community shed a new light on “hero” for me.
Like many others, I was completely mesmerized by the flames engulfing the landscape downvalley starting July 3 but particularly July 4. Much like sitting at a campfire, I couldn’t turn away my stare from the ever-increasing flames; however, being aware of the severe consequences of this fire left a pit in my stomach.
I thought July 4 I would be photographing children decorating their bikes and fire trucks in the parade on Main Street. Pretty sure our local firefighters thought that would be the case for themselves, as well. Instead, our Fourth of July was filled with slurry drops and fear.
I’ve never covered, let alone seen anything resembling the Lake Christine Fire in my life and was somewhat overwhelmed trying to document it. It was extremely chaotic as families evacuated their homes and due to protocol, I wasn’t allowed in many places that as a photographer I would have desired to be to capture the scene. A couple sat by me on the grass outside of the Basalt Library with their cat while the flames raged and crept toward their home on Basalt Mountain. It was extremely surreal for me so I can only imagine how they felt.
Throughout this fire coverage I saw so much humanity and wanted to photographically encompass the pain and exhaustion these families and individuals had to endure. Children were sitting in the back of pickup trucks in the City Market parking lot with their families with gallons of drinking water waiting for the community meetings to learn the details and potential fate for the next few days. People lost their homes and devastation was in the air downvalley. The loss of the three homes weighed heavy on our local fire officials but what they accomplished to save is truly astounding.
I live in Aspen and when I would return to the office it felt like a completely different universe. Women in stilettos wobbled on the cobblestone outside getting drinks when I had just come from an almost “war zone” downvalley with families wondering if their homes would make it through the night and desperately wanting to return home and return to normalcy.
Exhaustion crept into my mind and body that week and anytime I found myself voicing my tiredness I quickly put myself in check after seeing the firefighters come in from off the line with soiled and sweaty faces, filthy nomex and weighted limbs. These people, these heroes, have the right to say they’re tired. I found that despite the firefighters’ exhaustion they were all in extremely high spirits and comedic relief was a commonality among the different crews. Firefighters are the types of people I wouldn’t mind surrounding myself with.
Downvalley is scarred both on the landscape and emotionally from this tragic occurrence. I broke down and cried after the first week. I felt extremely connected to this fire because it is in our backyard. Speaking with the local firefighters about the night of July 4 at the Lake Christine Fire they were all united in “We gotta hold this, we gotta save this,” and our Aspen Times staff on scene downvalley felt the same way. We all wanted to be there. Thanks to all the first responders, you truly are our hometown heroes.
The December 2020 sabotage of three gas lines that put 3,500 households and businesses in Aspen without heat was partly due to a utility provider’s failure to “adequately secure its gas service lines from unauthorized tampering and damage,” according to allegations made in an insurer’s complaint against Black Hills Energy.