Homestead Acres suffers brunt of fire
August 2, 2002
Larry Kimball is making a habit out of saving his home and those of his neighbors from fires in Missouri Heights. It’s a habit he would just as soon not face.
Kimball used a backhoe Wednesday to scrape the ground to create a fire break around his home at 5495 Upper Cattle Creek Rd. He also scraped fire lines for several hours around his neighbors’ homes in the Homestead Acres subdivision.
Kimball worked away even as flames from the Panorama fire rolled east toward the subdivision. Law enforcement officials considered forcing him to evacuate, but firefighters let him stay because he was providing so much help, authorities confirmed.
Kimball is no stranger to heroic deeds. In the summer of 1989 he used a road grader to scrape a fire break and prevent the spread of a fire in the same general vicinity. Kimball was working for the Colorado Department of Transportation at the time and had the equipment at his house.
“I’m not a hero. I was just helping the firefighters,” Kimball said Thursday.
But neighbor Cathy Jackson definitely considers Kimball a hero. At a briefing about the fire Wednesday, she publicly credited Kimball and the firefighters for preventing flames from engulfing all eight homes in Homestead Acres. The crowd responded with a cheer.
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Jackson said she made it to her home right before the area was evacuated. She grabbed pictures and files, then fled. “The whole sky went orange,” she said.
One of the last things she saw was Kimball working from his backhoe. Jackson learned Wednesday night that the firefighting efforts had saved her house.
“I guess it looks like a lunarscape or a war zone there,” she said.
Homestead was hit hard despite the heroic efforts. Firefighters couldn’t prevent the blaze from overtaking Chris Cohan’s home.
Cohan said he saw smoke from the fire shortly after it broke out in the Panorama subdivision and went down to try to help control it. When it was evident that couldn’t be done, he returned to his home, got his horses loaded and evacuated with his dog.
A twisted metal hulk was all that remained of his double-wide trailer. A half-melted bird feeder was still hanging among the skeletons of gambol oaks. There were four or so burned shells of boats and numerous shells of snowmobiles. Nothing appeared salvageable.
Hillside after hillside was charred around Cohan’s house. Just the skeletal remnants of brush remained. A stiff wind Thursday pushed white smoke eerily along the black ground. It was a scene they try to create in horror movies with dry ice.
Northeast of Cohan’s home were the charred remains of Steve Peightal’s house and garage. Both were reduced to the ground.
But the success stories outnumbered the losses. The fire burned up to the lawns or even structures of homes in Homestead and the multimillion-dollar mansions across Upper Cattle Creek Road by Spring Park Reservoir.
Kimball said the flames stopped about 35 feet short of his house and about 10 feet short of the homes on either side of his.
Air tankers made numerous drops in and around Homestead Acres Wednesday afternoon. That helped prevent the flames from overrunning everything.
Cohan said he has another place to stay because he was preparing to build a new house on his Homestead property at 0261 Grange Lane.
Leda Brewer said she “lost everything” in the fire. She moved into a teepee on the property of Herb Weisbard at 0147 Grange Lane about two months ago. She wasn’t at home at the time of the fire, so she couldn’t save anything.
The fire swept onto the property, destroyed the teepee and other outbuildings and licked the stucco and earthen walls of Weisbard’s home.
“I didn’t realize the danger until I went back there today,” said Weisbard. “It was a disaster zone.”
Disaster nearly struck in 1989 when a fuse box on a power pole malfunctioned and triggered a blaze to the southwest of Homestead Acres.
“It was a much closer call back then than it was yesterday, to our house anyway,” said Darrell Rankin, who lives on Sam Grange Court, just east of both of the fires. The wind direction was pushing the 1989 fire toward his house and more fuels were in the area, he said.
The 1989 fire burned about 900 acres or about half of the current Panorama fire. It helped reduce some of the fuels that could have further fed the flames.
Kimball said this latest fire presented more of a threat to his neighborhood. “This one moved a lot faster,” he said.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]