Community journalism has its role in covering Lake Christine Fire
Today marks one month, exactly four weeks, since the Lake Christine Fire started. And hopefully tonight at the community meeting, we get the news that the fire is completely or mere percentage points away from being surrounded.
It has been a long month for many in the midvalley, especially for those who lost their prized possessions. For everyone who’s been on the edge of their couches waiting to see if it would rear up again, the biggest sigh of relief came over the weekend when the pre-evacuation notices were ended.
For us in the news business, it has been a test in and also a great example of how community journalism still matters. Every journalist in our 13-person newsroom has taken a role in our coverage — from our sports editor shuffling to Basalt minutes after the fire started to get photos to our publisher posting video and staying late to proof pages — all of The Aspen Times team pitched in.
Our page designers and advertising reps and managers adjusted ads and page sizes, our fellow journalists from our sister paper the Glenwood Springs Post Independent dug in on coverage and our pressroom in Gypsum worked around some missed deadlines as we tried to update information as late as we could for print.
Standing in the parking lot of the El Jebel park and ride at 1 a.m. July 5 and watching for the next three hours as the fire made a hellish run at El Jebel and Missouri Heights, veteran midvalley reporter Scott Condon and I were along side people wondering about their homes. I was in a Twitter conversation with a man who had evacuated but was watching the fire via his doorbell video camera, which was facing toward the highway and not in the direction of the flames, asking for updates.
That’s when we realized this was going to be much bigger and last longer than either of us had hoped just hours before on the Fourth of July. And we knew that people would be relying on us to get them information in a timely and accurate fashion.
By 8 a.m. July 5, four Times journalists were working at Condon’s Basalt home (and would camp there for the next four days) and the bulk of the Times’ team was in the Aspen office working to get out the news as quickly as possible.
The first wildfire I covered was the Bobcat Gulch Fire in June 2000 that started west of Loveland and burned more than 10,500 acres in 12 days. When I crammed into a Cessna with a photographer and we flew over the fire as it was smoldering, I got my first realization of the size, speed and destruction behind a wildfire. They look different from the air, and I’ve never forgot that view from above.
I have been a part of coverage of other wildfires since then, but the community support around the efforts to stop the Lake Christine Fire has been unwavering. From posters by grade-school kids thanking firefighters to people dropping off food and drinks at the command center, the support from the entire valley has been about one thing: community.
I was at the gas station by the Aspen airport last week when a group of firefighters from Oregon rolled up in their rig. People driving by were honking and shouting their thanks.
Full containment is near and the fire is almost put to bed. Rest assured that as the aftermath of the fire plays out in the coming months and years, from the recovery to the courts, our team will continue to keep our readers informed.
It has been a privilege to be part of the team that brings the community the news it needed in this difficult time and to be a part of a community that respects and appreciates the news and the firefighters we write about.