When disaster strikes, Rheta Fulton of Emma answers the call

Red Cross volunteer Rheta Fulton of Emma is used to responding to disasters, but the Lake Christine Fire was particularly tough.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

As a Red Cross volunteer, Rheta Fulton of Emma always stays busy. It just happened that disasters struck closer to home than usual this summer.

Fulton helped coordinate the Red Cross evacuation shelters and other services in Basalt and Carbondale after the Lake Christine Fire outbreak in July. She helped provide information and alternative housing when a water main pipe broke in Basalt’s Roaring Fork Apartments earlier this month. She provided temporary housing when a fire in the Gateway to Snowmass subdivision displaced seven residents Oct. 9.

“You never want to let your guard down,” Fulton said.

She first volunteered with the Red Cross in 2005 shortly before Hurricane Katrina. She’s now a Disaster Action Team captain, taking a supervisory role when disaster strikes between Aspen and Parachute.

Basalt Town Council recognized Fulton for her good deeds at its regular meeting last week. Council members read a lengthy proclamation in Fulton’s honor at their regular Tuesday meeting and personally congratulated her.

In a testament to her personality, Fulton said at the council meeting and in a follow-up interview with The Aspen Times that she should not get the credit for all that Red Cross did this year.

“I didn’t do this myself,” Fulton said. “There were all sorts of people involved in this.”

She stressed the efficiency and preparedness of the organization, which has a base in Grand Junction for western Colorado.

“It’s really a super organization,” she said. “It’s not fly-by-night by any means.”

Fulton’s volunteering has led her to a wide range of disasters — from those on a national scale such as the Hurricane Sandy relief effort in New York and New Jersey in 2012 to regional incidents such as the northern Front Range floods in Colorado in 2013.

“It’s my version of vacation,” she said.

The Lake Christine Fire was in a league of its own because of the uncertainty of how her community would fare on the night of July 4 and because it affected so many people she knew as a longtime midvalley resident.

“I have to say, emotionally that was tough,” Fulton said. “People were constantly walking through the door of Basalt High School who I knew and have known for decades.”

The Red Cross was put on standby the evening of July 3 when the fire broke out at the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range and quickly threatened parts of Basalt. While no evacuation shelter was established that night, Red Cross officials helped a handful of people find housing. They also realized the morning of the Fourth of July that people were displaced without food and clothing and stepped in to help meet needs.

When the fire roared back to life the night of July 4 and forced mandatory evacuations of hundreds of people, overnight shelters were established in Basalt and Carbondale. The Red Cross tapped into its cache of supplies in Eagle to provide cots, blankets and pillows. Establishing an evacuation center meant the evacuees and other people displaced needed to be fed.

“When you extend one comfort, it requires another,” Fulton said.

The outpouring of support to help with relief was memorable, she said. The Basalt Lions Club provided breakfasts for the first several mornings. Grocery stores and other business provided supplies. Chefs and other individuals volunteered to cook meals for scores of evacuees and other people displaced. The Red Cross helped coordinate the feeding and staffed the evacuation center.

The shelters housed about 60 people in Basalt on the busiest nights and more than 100 people in Carbondale.

Red Cross depended on volunteers from within and outside the Roaring Fork Valley to help during the fire. Fulton said the volunteers were prepared.

“We train and train and train,” she said.

The nonprofit organization’s efforts inspired a handful of regional residents to volunteer for the next disasters. Fulton said additional volunteers are needed. Interested valley residents can go to or call Rheta Fulton at 970-948-6532 to ask specific questions.

For Fulton, helping people affected by disasters provides its own reward.

“It’s such a growing experience,” she said.