Martinez family loses home, all possessions in fire, but grateful to be together

Jose “Chano” Feliciano Martinez heard the Lake Christine Fire barreling down the slope behind his rental house before he saw it, then raced to get his wife and four daughters out alive.

He was working in his garage but unaware that the fire had snuck over the ridge and was heading for the El Jebel Mobile Home Park.

Once he realized what was happening, the fire was a wind-driven freight train coming right at the stick-built house he has rented from the Williams family for 14 years.

“He yelled at us to get what we could and get out,” said his daughter, Cristina, 13, who just finished eighth grade at Basalt Middle School. There was no time to grab anything but important papers.

“He yelled at us to get what we could and get out.” — 13-year-old Cristina Martinez

“Five minutes later the house was on fire,” Jose said.

Jose lost his prized riding saddles, three from Mexico and three from America. Ten-year-old Victoria lost her bike, which now stands charred in front of the house. The only family photos they saved are on their phones. The only clothes they had were on their back (they have since received more clothes than they need).

“Everything. I don’t have nothing,” said Jose, with a matter-of-fact laugh.

Cristina fought back tears as she occasionally helped with translation between her dad and a reporter. The Martinez women didn’t want to return to the burnt-out hulk of their home, so the interview was in a reporter’s house.

Jose said he didn’t get definitive word about the house until Thursday, when he talked to Bonnie Williams, a member of the Crawford family that developed modern-day El Jebel.

“We probably knew from the start,” he said, but they held out hope for a miracle.

“I love this place there,” he said. “There’s a lot of room. It’s a nice place.”

Their house at 223 Lava Drive was accessed via the El Jebel Mobile Home Park. As they ran for their lives, Jose took one vehicle while his wife, Griselda Sanchez, took another. Their 2-month-old baby, Camila, was with her. Cristina, Victoria and Andreina, 6, piled in the vehicles.

It was chaotic getting out, Cristina said. As they got closer to El Jebel Road they encountered more people trying to flee and police making their way through the mobile home park working the bullhorns with the message to get out. The wind was whipping the smoke downvalley. Panic was in the air.

The Martinezes went to the ranch where they board their horses to check on the animals, then looked for a hotel. They couldn’t find one in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs or even Silt, so they came back into the El Jebel area against their best wishes. They were horrified to see the slopes above their house glowing and the flames whipping around in the swirling winds.

“It looked like hell,” Jose said, a description he feels is still appropriate.

The Martinez house was one of three destroyed in the fire. It also destroyed the home of their neighbors, Bill and Andee McCauley, and the Missouri Heights home of Basalt firefighter Cleve Williams and his family.

The Martinez family is staying temporarily at Top of the Village condominiums in Snowmass Village, where Jose works. He said his boss, Top of the Village general manager Doug Hayes, has been very generous. Hayes started a GoFundMe page for the family that can be found at http://www.gofund​

Jose said people have been generous, providing clothes, various other items and offering support.

“Everybody called me crying,” he said. While it is a tragedy, he said, the most important outcome is that his family is safe.

They need to find affordable alternative housing — always a challenge in the Roaring Fork Valley. Jose said someone contacted him with an offer of $3,000 per month, outside of his budget.

Anybody with an affordable-housing option can reach him at 970-456-2303.

(Editor’s note: This story was corrected to show that Top of the Village general manager Doug Hayes provided the housing and created the GoFundMe page for the Martinez family.)


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