The High Park Fire was leaping from tree to tree on the ridges above Roger and Becky Lunsford’s Columbine Lodge when Poudre Park Fire Chief Carl Sulley pulled into their parking lot with evacuation orders. “Get everyone out now!” Chief Sulley shouted. “You don’t have much time!”
“As soon as we get Gary loaded into the cars we’re out of here, Sulley!” replied Roger. Roger and Becky were gathering friends, tenants, campers, and neighbors into a convoy of cars to evacuate. Gary is a handicapped veteran living in the area that couldn’t evacuate on his own, and Roger and Becky had helped him to the convoy of cars. With Roger and Becky leading the convoy they fled down the Cache La Poudre River canyon through a gauntlet of fire to safety at a Red Cross shelter in Loveland.
The High Park Fire was reportedly sparked by a lightning strike near Paradise Park, and before it was brought under control it raged up and down the canyons west and north of Loveland as one of Colorado’s most destructive wildfires. Thousands of residents were evacuated, and many, like the Lunsford’s and their neighbors, sought refuge from the flames in Red Cross shelters set up on the Front Range. When it was safe to do so, residents were allowed back into the canyon to see what had happened to their homes and businesses.
“We were lucky in one sense,” said Becky. “The fire missed our Lodge, but it has driven away our customers. Who wants to camp on the river when everything is all black and burnt? Our business may not survive! I don’t know where to turn next!” The summer season is the busy time for Columbine Lodge and Becky depends on it to carry the business through the rest of the year. Columbine Lodge is one of the small businesses who were spared direct loss from the fires but who is still a victim nonetheless.
By reaching out to help their neighbors during the fire, Roger and Becky embodied the Red Cross spirit. In turn the Red Cross helped them with a safe refuge from the fires, and continues to help them in many ways as they rebuild their lives. Red Cross client service centers have been set up locally to help refer people to community services and agencies to meet their disaster-caused needs.
In addition, Red Cross disaster mental health workers help people deal with the disaster that has touched their lives. Brenda Sawyer, Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Volunteer, said: “We work with those affected by disaster to help empower them to call on their own strength and resilience to move forward. After a disaster, people are reacting emotionally and it is hard to think ahead, even to know where to begin.”
“We appreciate what the Red Cross has done for us and our neighbors,” said Roger. “You gave us a place to stay when we needed it most. Now you are here in our little community with outreach teams and distributing clean up supplies to help us get back on our feet. We have some very tough times ahead of us, but the Red Cross will make our road back easier. Thank you!”