Victim of Valley Fire

Pat Kelley describes the day of the Valley Fire, which destroyed his home. The Valley Fire erupted across the Animas River Valley from the Missionary Ridge Fire Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Pat Kelley describes the day of the Valley Fire, which destroyed his home. The Valley Fire erupted across the Animas River Valley from the Missionary Ridge Fire

On day 17 of the Missionary Ridge Fire, the unthinkable happened: Another fire broke out.

An electric fence sparked the Valley Fire that took out 10 homes, including Pat Kelley’s log home.

Kelley was at his house on Red Ridge Road, near County Road 203, when he heard over the radio scanner that the Valley Fire had broken out.

“I was looking out at where the call had come in, and there was an 8- to 10-foot column of smoke,” he said.

Kelley retired as a captain from the Durango fire department in 1990, and an off-duty volunteer firefighter was with him when the fire started. They got into their protective gear and were planning on staying in the house garage until the firestorm passed, but the heat from the fire was too strong, Kelley said.

The duo went back to the house after the smoke cleared to find it still standing. A wildfire crew was at the end of his street, and he begged them to give him a fire truck and some firefighters to foam the house.

While a deputy was asking his superior, a piece of bark that was on fire flew through the air and landed on Kelley’s deck.

“He looked up and said, ‘yours is starting to go now.’ I said ‘There is still time to save the house if you give me an engine,’” Kelley said. “It was very frustrating for me because I’m a structural firefighter, and I knew we could save the property. But I also knew where he was coming from and his training.”

Kelley left to drive to Durango with his wife and daughter when his daughter pulled off the road and pointed back toward their house.

There was fire coming out of every window, and the family knew they had just lost everything.

“I saw a lot of house fires, but when it’s your own home, it was just very emotional and there was nothing you could do,” Kelley said.

Kelley has since rebuilt on the same spot, but this time he built an all-stucco house with a concrete deck that has a metal railing.

The Missionary Ridge Fire was catastrophic and devastating, but Kelley still sees a bright side: If the air tankers hadn’t in been the area, the Valley Fire could have spread all the way into town.

jdahl@durangoherald.com