Living in a mountain town means accepting the threat of fire and flood, and in the past few years the small town of Nederland has succumb to the ravages of both.
As the Cold Springs fire continues to blaze in Boulder Canyon, the community has bonded together to help one another.
“We’re kind of isolated up here,” says Nederland Mayor Kristopher Larsen. “We basically have three ways in and out of town. When things happen we turn to one another, and that’s just an absolute wonderful thing to see.”
First reports of the Cold Springs Fire came in at around 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 10, on Colorado 119 at Cold Spring Road and Peak to Peak Highway. High winds over the weekend aided its spread to more than 520 acres with 1,991 people evacuated by Monday evening. As of press time on Wednesday afternoon, the fire was 25 percent contained, with eight homes and seven other structures destroyed, according to data provided by Boulder Office of Emergency Management.
On Sunday, two men from Alabama were arrested for starting the fire. Along with another companion, the two were camping on private property from Thursday evening through Friday morning and did not properly ensure their campfire was extinguished. They have been charged with fourth-degree arson and second-degree trespassing.
Nederland High School is serving as an evacuation center for those who have been displaced. Ed O’Brien, public affairs officer and volunteer with the Red Cross, estimates the center is sheltering about 30 firefighters and roughly 15 families, including those who have lost their home in the fires, and feeding twice that number. Residents have also congregated there for public information meetings and a community potluck on Tuesday, July 12.
Evacuation center manager Lois Ott has been staying at the center, along with her husband, since they were evacuated from their home on Saturday. A resident of Nederland for 17 years, she’s hopeful that no other structures are damaged and that everyone can return home as soon as possible.
Although it’s a sad, difficult situation, she says, Nederland has an amazing community of volunteers.
“Everybody is stepping up and helping each other and comforting each other,” Ott says. “We have people who are not evacuated who live in town and who are here all the time, offering to volunteer. It’s a wonderful small community. I’ve always known that, but now I know it even more. I’m very thrilled to live here and to know these people and be friends with them.”
To lend a hand, O’Brien says, many people have offered up their homes to displaced neighbors.
“The biggest volunteering that’s been going on in the community is taking in the people that were displaced because not that many people wound up needing shelter,” he says. “The community is absorbing this large refugee population — this is a heck of a community.”
And the hospitality doesn’t just stop with housing humans.
“I have people staying with me. One’s a volunteer firefighter in the affected area, whose cats took over my bathroom,” Mayor Larsen says. “Everyone around here is doing the same thing. We had pastures open up for people’s horses, their llamas and alpacas. People were like, ‘Oh hey, I’ve got a spare chicken coup, bring your chickens over.’ Everyone opened it up and the community just came right together.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the situation was improving, with many residents being cleared to go back to their homes for good.
“You can automatically tell the pressure is being released, people are feeling better,” O’Brien says. “People are finding out they can go to their home for 10 minutes, see how it is, grab some personal effects, look for their lost cat and come back out. That kind of stuff makes a big difference.”
Along with the other evacuees, Ott is anxious to get home.
“We all have food in the fridge that’s rotting,” she says with a laugh.
Disasters are never welcome, but it’s in times like these that O’Brien sees the good in the world.
“The world is supposedly defective, and people dislike each other, and there’s all this disrespect, and what you find out is maybe that’s not true,” he says. “Maybe what’s true is what’s here. Maybe what’s true is people helping people. Maybe what’s true is people who, even though they’re having maybe the worst day of their life, they still look at you and say, ‘Thank you.’ I’d say this is the antidote to all the other stuff.”