Hundreds of grateful midvalley residents show their support for firefighters

Hundreds gathered near Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel Tuesday to greet the Lake Christine Fire crew as they returned from the field. They wanted to give thanks to those who helped keep the destruction to a minimum.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

One simple post on Facebook on Monday led to an outpouring of community support Tuesday that had federal firefighters shaking their heads in awe.

Basalt resident Laura Riegel posted a message on Facebook on Monday at 7:36 p.m. urging midvalley residents to line the roundabout and sidewalks leading into Crown Mountain Park at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to thank the firefighters as they headed back to their tent village after another hard day on the lines.

“One simple post and look what happened,” Riegel said Tuesday as she stood among hundreds of well-wishers. “This is why social media rocks.”

She said a public information officer with the Forest Service estimated the crowd at 750 people.

There were young people, old people, Anglos, Latinos, people with signs and people clapping. Some people were crying, others were laughing. All of them were cheering.

To the north, Basalt Mountain continued to smolder, a week after the Lake Christine Fire started. Ironically, a few raindrops fell as the ad hoc event started.

Many of the firefighters appeared awestruck at they drove in on specialized fire engines called brush trucks and pickups. People lining the street held out their hands to give the firefighters high-fives. Several firefighters obliged. Others were recording video of the spectacle on their smartphones.

Many of the firefighters were covered in soot. Many of them beamed with smiles. A few of them cried.

There were Prescott Hotshots from Arizona, Lost River Fire Management from Oregon and Oregon Woods Inc., just to name a few.

One firefighter who was especially proud was Terry McShane, a Carbondale resident and Aspen Highlands ski patrolman who also works for Northern Rockies as a supervisor of eight engines and crews. He was assigned to the fire in his neighborhood by happenstance after spending time on the 416 Fire near Durango.

He has been a firefighter for 38 years and said community support on the scale that Basalt and El Jebel displayed Tuesday happens rarely, if ever.

“The hospitality and outpouring of gratitude is truly humbling,” McShane said. “We have their backs and it was very obvious they have ours.”

He pulled a class act by having some of his crew members walk back over to the crowd after they parked their vehicles and filter by the single file, exchanging high-fives, handshakes and hugs.

“I pulled all my folks together and said ‘line out,’” McShane said.

While Roaring Fork Valley hospitality might not have surprised McShane, it blew away Keith Brink, special operations section chief with Northern Rockies Incident Management, a 30-year veteran of firefighting.

He said federal firefighters receive signs of support when they travel but “not to the extent this community does.”

When asked about the effects on the firefighters, he replied, “It’s huge. These guys just don’t see this stuff.”

Brink was quick to point out that the local firefighters, headed by Basalt Fire Department with assistance from fire departments from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and Eagle Valley, were the heroes of the fire, saving Basalt and El Jebel on July 3 and July 4 before the feds arrived. Massive celebrations are in the works for the local teams.

Riegel was blown away by the outcome Tuesday and proud that so many Roaring Fork Valley residents showed up.

“I thought I’d maybe have 30 people standing on the highway,” she said.