Some 1,400 residents in El Jebel and Basalt ready to return home after staying in evacuation centers |

Some 1,400 residents in El Jebel and Basalt ready to return home after staying in evacuation centers

Natalia Sanders, 9, signs a banner for the Lake Christine firefighters at the El Jebel City Market on Saturday. The Sanders family has been evacuated from their Basalt home on Pinion Drive due to the wildfire.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

El Jebel resident Blanca Guzman watched her two boys play Saturday in the cafeteria of Basalt High School, hoping it will be the last day she has to do that.

Her prayers were answered Saturday night. Starting at 8 a.m. today, she and her fellow residents at the El Jebel Mobile Home Park will be able to go back to their houses after being evacuated Wednesday because of the Lake Christine Fire. It is 8 percent contained and more than 5,900 acres in size.

“I am missing my home,” Guzman said.

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek announced the lifting of the evacuations during a community meeting Saturday evening at the high school, which serves as the evacuation center.

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry thanked the community for uniting during a difficult time.

“Thank you for your patience and resiliency,” she said.

Re-entries will occur in Basalt beginning at 2 p.m. today, including the neighborhoods Big Pinon and Little Pinon, Shadow Rock, Original Road, Pine Ridge, Sagewood Court, Hillcrest, Silverado and Two Rivers for access to Hillcrest.

That will make Gretchen Weber happy.

She was one of the first people evacuated when the fire broke out at the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range Tuesday evening. She said she lives less than a mile away.

Weber was at the library Tuesday when the lights went out. She went home, prepared her to-go bag and within minutes a sheriff’s deputy was knocking on the door.

Weber is one of more than 1,400 people who will have their mandatory evacuations lifted today. Another 782 people were able to return to their homes Friday. There are still about 300 people who live in the higher areas, like the Wilds, Ridge Road, Cedar Road and Pinon Drive, who still have mandatory evacuations placed on their properties, Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek.

Weber has been staying at friends’ homes and was at the high school evacuation center for lunch Saturday.

Guzman stayed at a hotel in Rifle for two nights and then moved to her cousin’s house.

“It was very expensive,” Guzman said, “and my boys were very, very scared.”

She and her family have been coming to the evacuation center for the three meals a day offered by the Red Cross, the Lions Club, the Salvation Army and area restaurants.

Guzman also picked up some underpants and socks for her boys, Jefferson, 13, and Emerson, 7.

“It’s good here,” she said. “My kids can play here, eat here.”

Guzman is one of about 60 people who have been coming to the center daily to use its resources, whether it’s a shower, a meal or donated clothes.

George Newell, the American Red Cross manager at the shelter, said as time goes on, evacuees have found other places to go.

“People can find places to stay at a friend’s or family — or in desperate circumstances, an in-law’s,” he said with a laugh.

Newell said 34 people slept in the gymnasium Friday night. On Wednesday, the first night that the shelter was open, there were 90 evacuees.

Counselors have been on site to help those who need it.

“There are some people who are stressed,” Newell said.

Jonathan Perez, 16, and his brother Raymundo, 13, have been sleeping there with their parents since the first night they were evacuated from their house on Homestead Drive.

They watched videos on their phones while lying on cots Saturday afternoon. Their father, Giarmo, placed fans around the gym to cool off the space.

The boys selected cots near a door that opened to a hallway where it was cooler.

Jonathan, who was about to go to work for his shift at City Market, said he would like to be home for his 17th birthday Tuesday.

“My family was planning a party or something,” he said.

Raymundo didn’t seem to mind his accommodations.

“It’s pretty good,” he said shyly.

Several cots down, a teenage couple didn’t seem to mind their accommodations either, as they made out under a blanket.

A few other evacuees with children were sitting on their cots, with strollers, playpens and suitcases surrounding them.

The evacuation center is situated on a bench that offers expansive views of the plumes of smoke along the mountain range that serve as a constant reminder to evacuees why they are there.

Inside, the air-conditioned shelter offers a cool, welcome respite to the stifling heat and smell of smoke wafting through the air.

Andrea Michaelson showed up Friday to volunteer. She’s served food out of the school’s cafeteria. Saturday’s lunch was sandwiches, pizza, macaroni and cheese and lots of snacks.

Dinner was chicken green chile, brisket — left over from the Roaring Fork Club — and shrimp cocktail from The Little Nell.

Michaelson said evacuees have been a joy to serve.

“They have been so pleasant and grateful,” she said, adding the volunteers and donations are overwhelming. “I gotta tell ya, this is quite a community.”