Residents face painful recovery
Shannon Derby thought she had cried all she could after learning that her family’s mobile home burned to the ground in the Coal Seam fire.
Then they found the charred remains of the family’s missing dog, Coco, while raking through the rubble. It was too much to take. She broke down again.
Derby and her husband, Bryan, and their two kids, Cody, 8, and Natasha, 10, returned to their home in the Robin Hood Mobile Home Park Tuesday morning to see if there was anything to salvage. Friends and family helped with the grim task.
Although the three-bedroom, two-bath trailer was reduced to ash and a burned metal frame, Shannon and her kids were piecing together a mental picture of what had been located where. They found the broken bits of the bathtub. Shannon showed her kids where Natasha’s closet had been.
Much easier to identify were the shell of a Jeep and the hulk of a work truck.
“Yesterday we drove by and I almost passed out,” said Shannon. “I threw up.
“You cry until you can’t cry any more. Now I’m just numb.”
No sooner had she spoken the words when they found Coco.
Shannon and Bryan returned to the site Monday night when Glenwood Springs and Garfield County officials lifted a mandatory evacuation of West Glenwood and other parts of town. They called to their cat, who lives outdoors, and it came running to them just a few seconds later.
They had let Coco outdoors in the few crazed minutes they had to abandon their home when fire roared over the Roaring Fork River and Interstate 70 and torched the neighborhood at the intersection of Highways 6 and 24 with Mitchell Creek Road.
“We ran out with the shirts on our backs and my purse,” said Shannon.
Finding Coco’s remains was a reminder of just how difficult recovery will be for the Derby family and roughly 10 of their immediate neighbors whose homes were also leveled by the flames.
Garfield County officials revised their figures on the destruction Tuesday. Assessor Shannon Hurst said 28 homes were destroyed, one received major damage and two received minor damage.
Earlier estimates were that 24 homes had been destroyed.
Hurst estimated the damage to the homes at $4.5 million. The figure will probably go up as complete assessments are made.
Another 14 sheds, garages and outbuildings were also destroyed.
The Robin Hood area was the hardest hit. A street in the trailer park, just to the east of the Derbys, marked where firefighters made their stand Saturday night.
To the west of the road, four trailers in Robin Hood were destroyed. Farther to the west but not part of the mobile home park were the charred remains of modular homes, a duplex and stick-built residences.
Most of the Storm King Mobile Home Park to the northeast survived, but seven trailers were ignited by flying embers.
Up Mitchell Creek Road from Robin Hood there were at least seven additional homes destroyed.
On the east side of the road in Robin Hood, where firefighters made their line, eight mobile homes survived although the intense heat melted the exterior siding of three. One of the damaged homes belonged to Vickie Derby, the sister-in-law of Shannon and Bryan.
“I don’t know how they saved my home,” said Vickie Derby. “Some of my neighbors lost everything.”
She and her husband don’t plan to immediately move back to their home. “I don’t feel secure enough,” explained Vickie. She wants to make sure the damage won’t cause problems with electrical or natural gas service before moving back.
To the east of Vickie Derby’s home, Chuck and Alice Carlos were outdoors Tuesday morning trying to figure out how their mobile home survived.
“What a blessing to come home and see not even a scratch,” said Alice. Even their two cats were fine, she said.
But after living through the fright of the Storm King fire in July 1994 and this latest evacuation, Alice, 73, and Chuck, 79, have had enough.
“The good Lord is telling us it’s about time,” said Alice. “I think we’ll probably go to Grand Junction. We’ve got grandchildren there.”
But Alice and Vickie Derby also found signs that all was meant to be well at their homes. Both said their rose bushes blossomed between the evacuation Saturday and their return on Tuesday morning.
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Citing the fire threat, the U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday closed about 1,555 square miles of forest land in five counties near Colorado’s heavily populated Front Range — an area bigger than the state of Rhode Island.