Imagine you’re sitting at home one day and the notice comes in – a wildfire is bearing down on your house and you have to evacuate. In the course of the next few minutes, you have a to pack a bag and hit the road. What do you bring?
If you’re 11-year-old Elora Dean, you bring only the essentials.
“I brought most of my stuffed animals,” she said.
Elora was one of a few hundred people forced to evacuate from No Name, a small community next to I-70 in Glenwood Canyon. The Grizzly Creek Fire came near very few buildings and people, but sent No Name residents out of their homes for eleven days.
Elora said she had laid out mental plans before for what she would pack on a moment’s notice. But when it was crunch time during the fire, those went out the window.
“When it actually happened, it was totally different,” she said. “In the heat of the moment, you just grab stuff and throw it in a bag.”
Elora’s mother, Megan, said she grabbed her two daughters, their passports, pets and her paddleboard before getting out of No Name in a hurry. And what they saw on the way out was not promising.
“We were standing on the pedestrian bridge and I was watching the smoke plume and the mushroom cloud come up,” she said. “And it looked like the whole neighborhood was burning. And I turned to them and was like ‘you’re never going to forget this.’”
After that moment, they embarked on a quick departure and spent almost two weeks away from home. Waiting and wondering what things might be like back inside the fire– in the valley that she called “magic.” It was a place that captured her attention almost two decades ago and kept her there to raise a family.
“I wasn't worried about my house,” she said. “A house can be rebuilt. My husband's a builder and he can build a beautiful home. That's not what I was worried about. I was worried about the valley and all of the trees and everything just being incinerated.”
But everything was not incinerated. Some parts of Glenwood Canyon look like a charred moonscape, with nothing left but the ashy skeletons of trees. But much more of the canyon, including just about everything you can see from No Name, is still green and untouched by a fire that came close, but stopped short. That includes all of the homes in No Name.
“It’s pretty great,” Megan Dean said. “I woke up this morning and it was the first time I had a really good night’s sleep last night. And I was so happy because I knew where the bathroom was, where all my things were.”
Greg Jeung lives just down the street and felt the same kind of relief when he came back to No Name and saw it was all still standing.
“We’re glad to be home,” he said. “Came home last night and shed a few tears becauseI could have been picking through ruins of our home and possessions.”
Greg stayed busy in the time away from home, acting as a community leader and helping keep everyone informed. He sent out emails with the latest information to older residents who might not be on social media. He convinced the fire’s incident management team to host a special online meeting just for No Name. He says helping others is part of his credo.
“Being able to give, I think it gives me some purpose and meaning in my life,” he said.
On Monday night, Greg was standing barefoot in his driveway chatting with neighbors. It seemed like half the town was drifting up and down the street checking on friends and sharing stories from the time away.
The night almost had the feel of block party – kids reuniting with friends and one neighbor passing out cold beers.
But in the midst of all that, the fire itself is still burning. There are reminders all over No Name. Splatters of red fire retardant are still visible on mailboxes, and helicopters keep buzzing overhead, shuttling water toward the smoke you can see in the distance. It’s a feeling of relief, but with an asterisk.
“I'm a lot calmer than I have been,” Megan Dean said. “I'm still on edge. The fact that there's still a helicopter, every 10-15 minutes. I'm definitely on still that pre-evac mentality.”
Now, firefighters have wrangled the blaze to more than 60% contained and gone to great lengths to protect people and their homes.
And in the middle of a hot Colorado summer with record levels of drought, Monday night delivered one more glimpse of optimism as a light rain began to sprinkle over No Name.