Residents face choice: Stay or go? |

Residents face choice: Stay or go?

Residents of Snowmass Creek Valley kept a wary eye on a wildfire Thursday afternoon and packed valuable belongings just in case they needed to scramble.

Many people were at work when the fire broke out at noon. Some came back, packed their pets and valuables, and high-tailed it out, according to Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Bruce Benson, who was screening traffic at the intersection of Snowmass Creek and Shield O roads.

Other residents of the Shield O Terrace and Shield O Mesa areas, rural subdivisions with relatively high densities, checked out the proximity of the fire and dismissed the threat, he said.

Shield O Terrace resident Russ Andrews watched the smoke curl up from the blaze at about 4 p.m. from the commanding view from his lot. He was at ease but uncertain if he wanted to keep his family there for the night.

Andrews, a senior vice president for Morgan Stanley in Aspen, had his workday end abruptly when he learned at 1:30 p.m. that the fire was burning about two miles from his home. His first concern was for two of his kids, who were home alone at the time. When he couldn’t reach them by phone, he rushed out to the house to assess the situation.

At one point, smoke and ash from the wind-whipped fire was blowing right at the subdivision. “It was kind of choking us,” he said.

He considered leaving, but opted to stay, keep an eye on the smoke and try to gauge whether the fire was getting closer. He packed clothes and pictures and other important items just in case his family needed to move quickly.

By 4 p.m., Andrews was still plotting his next move.

“I don’t know if we’ll stay here or go into town,” he said. “If we stay here it will be with one eye open.”

Across Shield O Road from Andrews’ house, renter Julie Dargart-Willet had a few items prepared to pack in her car. She was lamenting that she and her husband had just moved into the neighborhood this week. Now some of the things they had just unpacked, such as photos, were being placed back into the car, just in case.

There was an eerie feeling in the subdivision since very few people were around and the smoke was billowing in a menacing way from the fire just up the road, she noted.

She said the tragic fires in California and in Colorado’s Front Range were fresh on her mind. She was also coping with memories from the summer of 2002, when she lived in the south-Denver-metro area and its proximity to the massive Hayman Fire.

Dargart-Willet said she and her husband were still sleeping at their apartment in Aspen this week because they hadn’t fully moved into their new place. But even if they had, she said, they would have avoided Shield O Terrace Thursday night.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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