Community shares loss, pulls together during Fourmile Canyon blaze

Community shares loss, pulls together during Fourmile Canyon blaze

David Accomazzo, Oakland Childers, Katherine Creel | Boulder Weekly

As the Fourmile Fire continues to burn across more than 6,000 acres, stories from those who fear or know they lost homes are emerging from the haze, and community assistance efforts are ramping up to help those in need.


The fire has destroyed at least 170 structures, and the Boulder Outlook Hotel and other local hotels are offering special rates for evacuees and displaced families. The Outlook, located at 800 28th St., is also a designated as a drop-off location for donated items (products, services, even lightly used clothing in good condition).

Stephen Schein says the least he can do to help out during the fire is to make food available to those displaced by the blaze and the firefighters risking their lives to save property in the mountains. After all, he does own Half Fast Subs on the Hill.

But he may have lost another asset recently. On Wednesday night, he got what he calls conclusive evidence that his home and all his possessions burned in the blaze.

“A neighbor of mine who works for Digital Globe was able to pull up a satellite image,” Schein says. “Unfortunately it was very clear. It was devastatingly clear.”

Schein and girlfriend Melissa Pruitt have the clothes on their backs, their two dogs and two bicycles. Everything else is gone, as far as Schein knows. All his family photos. Every object with sentimental value.

“Melissa and I literally lost everything we had,” Schein says. “It’s your life. It’s very sad.”

Still, he’s oddly calm and seemingly upbeat about his misfortune. His outward appearance, however, masks the ugliness of what’s really going on inside his head.

“I think in a way I intellectually understand what’s happened,” says Schein. “But I don’t know that I’ve emotionally digested it yet. I’m having conversations with myself, trying to stay positive and focused and move forward. When the impact comes I’m sure it won’t be good.”

That impact could come when Schein and Pruitt are finally allowed back into their neighborhood. Schein says he tried to get up there on Monday and Tuesday, but with no luck.

“I went up there [Tuesday] and there was a sheriff blocking the road,” says Schein. “I’ve heard that area isn’t going to be open for a while. It’s still dangerous.”

Schein is looking to the future and wondering where he will be living in the years to come. Rebuilding is an option, he says, depending on the condition of the surrounding area.

“I’m [expecting] to be horrified by what I see,” says Schein. “It depends on what the land looks like up there. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.”

‘Engulfed us’

Brooks Fisher heard of the mandatory evacuation and was packing some things into his car outside his home at 11780 Gold Hill Rd. when the situation suddenly became much more urgent.

“We were getting stuff in the car, and the smoke just kind of came out of nowhere and sort of engulfed us,” Fisher says.

Suddenly, they had no choice but to flee. They got in the car and drove as fast as they could towards the Peak-to-Peak Highway.

“We couldn’t see anything,” Fisher says. “We were just running for our lives. Black smoke just came in. It wasn’t the white smoke that you see from the trees; this was black smoke you see from the buildings.”

As of now, Fisher thinks his house has not burned. Kate Walker’s family has owned and operated Colorado Mountain Ranch, on 10063 Gold Hill Rd., since her grandparents started it in 1947. The flames are licking the edges of the property, and her father, Mike Walker, is still up at the ranch fighting the flames with a backhoe.

“We were able to save 75 percent of the ranch, but the barn where we had the horses is gone; my parents’ house is gone,” Kate Walker says. “We were able to get all the horses into Longmont [at the Boulder County Fairgrounds]. …They were able to save the structures — the cabin, and the lodge. … We will be able to house and feed people when the rebuilding begins.”

The animals are safely housed at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, but Walker says they and other horse owners could always take hay donations.

At a Sept. 8 press conference, evacuated residents expressed their frustration with the slow flow of information from the sheriff ’s office and fire department.

“Why aren’t we getting information on residences that have burned?” asked Bob Hodgetts.

“If I knew my house had burned, that’d be fine,” he said, explaining that then he could at least start making plans. “And if I knew it hadn’t, that’d be even better.”

Sheriff ’s Office Cmdr. Rick Brough said deputies will be investigating affected areas this week and an updated list of damaged and destroyed homes will be available online at

Laura McConnell, spokeswoman for the Boulder County Incident Management Team, said firefighters were focusing on point protection — protecting structures in immediate danger. Some hazards facing the more than 200 firefighters working to contain the blaze include propane tanks, downed power lines, steep roads and debris. No injuries had been reported, however.

Bob Nelson, a 69-year-old resident of the Pine Hill neighborhood who was ordered to evacuate on Monday, said he has been “awed” by the community response to the fire and the amount of support offered to evacuees.

are coming out of the woodwork,” he said, adding that friends and
acquaintances from as far away as Australia have contacted him to see if
he was all right.

said he understood the slow trickle of information and the need for the
continued evacuations. For him, the evacuation was mostly an
inconvenience because he was “95 percent certain” his home was still standing. “If my house was on that list I’m sure I’d be reacting very differently.”

Evacuees are being asked to e-mail
and provide their full name, the address of the affected residence,
whether it is a primary or secondary residence, whether they’ve been
notified if the residence has been damaged or destroyed, the phone
number where they can be reached, and whether they need long-term
housing assistance.