Expecting the worst, El Jebel Mobile Home Park residents find homes in good shape; others not as fortunate | AspenTimes.com

Expecting the worst, El Jebel Mobile Home Park residents find homes in good shape; others not as fortunate

When Yanu Valentine and his two children returned to the El Jebel Mobile Home Park for the first time Sunday since being displaced last week, he didn't expect to find his residence habitable, much less his cat alive.

"Honestly, when I left Wednesday night, I didn't think anything would make it," he said a few hours after returning to his home of 14 years. "I was looking at a wall of fire that was bigger than anything I had seen in my life."

The erratic wildfire, which originated at the Basalt shooting range Tuesday, prompted officials to evacuate residents from the 250 to 270 homes in the park on the Fourth of July. Valentine was one of them, along with his children and dog. But he couldn't find his 13-year-old cat before they had to flee.

His fortune changed upon is return.

"I found my cat this morning," he said. "She lied for four-and-a-half days under the house with no water, no food. But when I was allowed back in, she was there waiting for us."

Residents of the mobile home park began filing in through a security checkpoint at 8 a.m. Sunday.

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"Everyone did what they were supposed to do and they got in fairly quickly," Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek said.

Re-entries also happened later in the day in Basalt neighborhoods including Big Pinon and Little Pinon, Shadow Rock, Original Road, Pine Ridge, Sagewood Court, Hillcrest, Silverado and Two Rivers for access to Hillcrest. More were scheduled for today, including Two Rivers Road, Wilderness Road, Promontory Lane, Wild Spring Lane, Ridge Road and Cedar Drive to Piñon Drive.

Cedar Drive at the Piñon Drive intersection will remain closed but displaced residents, starting at 10 a.m. today, will be given 20-minute escorted visits by the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. Escorted visits to Missouri Heights' Upper Cattle Creek Road, which also is closed, were offered starting Sunday night.

Shortly after 1 p.m., Van Beek took two members of The Aspen Times for a drive through the El Jebel Mobile Home Park, pointing how close its residences came to being destroyed by the fire.

"None of the trailers in the trailer park were damaged," he said.

A number of residents, like Valentine, had been fearful of smoke or heat damage at the very least. They were spared from that and the fate of two homes located just outside of the mobile home park — at 223 and 227 Lava Drive — which both burned to the ground. Another home, belonging to the family of firefighter Cleve Williams at 850 Vista Drive on Missouri Heights, also was destroyed.

"None of the trailers received any kind of damage other than there might be some blistering on some the paint of the trailers," Van Beek said.

There was no mistaking, however, that it could have been much worse. Scorched trees, brushes and vegetation were roughly a dozen footsteps away from many of the residences in one of the areas most vulnerable to the blaze.

"Between this and Old Town Basalt … this is where there is dense population, dense buildings, and then the urban interface with all of the trees and bushes," the sheriff said.

Stepping outside of one residence, a little boy and his big brother, Jonny Medrano, were getting ready to make the most of the day. Van Beek greeted them both, offering words of encouragement.

"It was hectic," Medrano said of the wait, noting that he and the four other members of his household stayed with nearby relatives during the course of the evacuation.

Valentine, who turns 38 later this month, expressed gratitude for the people who saved his home and others'.

"Whoever is looking out for us put some good workers on it, and they were able to save my house," he said. "I've never been more thankful than I am today."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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