Suzanne Harrison was riding her bike in the Bakers Bridge area Friday morning when she noticed smoke near her home. She pedaled home as fast as she could, but by the time she got there, the evacuation orders were already in place. She couldn’t get in.
Her husband, though, was home. He quickly packed clothes and old family photos. The cell service was patchy, so Harrison had a hard time reaching him. He didn’t have time to gather everything they would need.
“There’s definitely things I would do differently,” she said. “I wish I had a better communication plan with my husband. If one of us is there and one of us is not, what does the other person want?”
The 416 Fire has forced hundreds of residents to consider what they would pack in a moment’s notice. The fire, which broke out about 10 a.m. Friday, led to the evacuation of 825 homes and placed another 760 homes on pre-evacuation notice. As of Sunday afternoon, the fire had grown to 2,255 acres and was 10 percent contained.
Harrison, who has been staying with a friend in Edgemont Ranch subdivision, said she was in good spirits Sunday despite knowing her house was just across the road from the blaze.
“I feel safe,” she said. “I feel inconvenienced a little bit, but that’s nothing compared to being in danger. It’s just that I would like to go home, but otherwise, I’m fine.”
Harrison had been preparing for the upcoming fire season, including uploading pictures to the cloud during her free time so they would be safe. Once she is allowed back, she’ll upload them at a quicker pace, she said. She’s also slightly concerned about a propane tank on her grill that is next to her house.
“I would make sure that things that are irreplaceable I have packed up and ready to go,” she said. “I don’t think this is the last fire we’re going to have this summer.”
Harrison said she received numerous text messages and offers from friends for places to stay.
“I really feel like the community is looking out for each other,” she said.
Charlie Diehl was working in Bayfield Friday and didn’t hear about the fire until later in the day. His wife received a call from her son and decided to evacuate. She hastily packed things and left their Rockwood home 30 minutes before the evacuation order.
“I don’t have my passport, and my phone might die any second because I don’t have a phone charger. And I’m having to ration my computer time,” Diehl said. “My wife was pretty panicked when she left. She didn’t take a lot of time to grab stuff.”
Diehl met his wife at La Quinta Inn & Suites, where the couple have been staying.
“It’s been interesting in the hotel because it seems like half the people in the hotel are evacuees. Everybody is comparing stories, spreading rumors. There’s all these people here with their dogs that got evacuated.”
He said he and his wife are sorry they didn’t create a list of items to pack in the event of an emergency. The couple has spent time and money buying clothes and running errands.
Diehl said he is receiving county alerts, but he wishes officials would share more information about the fire.
“It would be nice if there were more pictures ... so that we have a better idea of what it really looks like up there,” he said.
Several residents have called a community information hotline asking if they can return home for pets, medications or other essential items, said Ron Corkish, volunteer manager for the center. Others have called to ask where they can receive clothes, and many have asked where they can submit donations.
The hotline, which is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., received 356 calls on Friday and 445 on Saturday. It was staffed by 50 volunteers throughout the weekend at the La Plata County Communications & Emergency Operations Center, in Bodo Industrial Park.
Most of the calls came from evacuated residents wanting general information about the fire and evacuation notices. The agency serves as a general problem-solver and connects callers to appropriate resources or agencies.
“We’re often the connection between the individual and calls and which working group can help them,” said David Austin, a hotline volunteer.
For those without internet access, the call center is the main, and in some instances, the only source of information, said Eve Pressler, a hotline volunteer.
Elizabeth Bartley, also a hotline volunteer, said residents seemed more antsy to go home Sunday than on Friday and Saturday, when the fire was more active.
“This morning (Sunday), since it’s been two nights now, some of them were starting to sound a little frustrated,” she said. “They’re all anxious to go home. But they understand and they’re patient.”
The call center documents every call it receives and will make return calls when new information becomes available.
The center has eight phone lines, of which five are typically in use at any given time. While one volunteer is fielding a call, others begin problem-solving for the caller. Others will help organize the information in case return calls are needed.
Pressler said most callers seem appreciative of the volunteers.
“I’ve had people who get really emotional,” she said. “So many callers seem genuinely surprised that they have a real human being on the end of the phone.”