HERMOSA – Hundreds of La Plata County residents found themselves facing an uncertain future Thursday as the 416 Fire inched its way closer to their Hermosa homes.
Almost 500 homes – 497 to be exact – were evacuated at 6 a.m. Thursday in the Hermosa area. Hours later, an additional 751 homes were put on pre-evacuation notice.
Multiple vehicles packed to the brim with personal belongings departed the Hermosa area Thursday morning, with no time frame for when they would be able to return home.
“It’s kind of like an apocalypse,” said Wes Stein, who was given a pre-evacuation notice Thursday morning. “It was super smoky, everyone’s packing up, the sheriff’s out here on a megaphone telling everyone to get ready to leave. It’s eerie. It feels like ‘The Walking Dead.’”
As of Thursday morning, 11 people planned to stay at the emergency evacuation shelter, though there is enough room for hundreds, said Eric Myers, executive director for American Red Cross of Western Colorado.
Stein and his wife, Melissa, spent Thursday morning packing up documents, photos and other essential items should they be given the order to evacuate.
“You read that stuff and think, ‘I won’t have to do that,’ but the next day you’re doing it,” he said. “It’s a weird thing.”
Luckily, the Steins have a friend who offered to let them use their guest house. The hardest part about packing is not knowing how long to pack for, he said.
“We’ve heard people say it might not go out for a month,” Stein said. “But who knows.”
Many residents who had received pre-evacuation orders had been preparing to leave since the fire broke out Friday.
“We immediately started packing things up,” said Angela Minerich, who was also given a pre-evacuation notice Thursday morning. “I had significant concern because of the conditions. We just knew it would move fast.”
Minerich and her family, who live on County Road 203, have spent their remaining time mitigating their property, including using ditch water to water their lawn. They’ve also filled buckets with water and placed them around their house for firefighters to use should they need them.
Their son Lucas was given the nickname “Smoky” because he was born three days after the Missionary Ridge Fire started in 2002. The family couldn’t initially return home because of the impact the smoke could have had on their newborn.
“We’ve had our run-ins with fires before,” Minerich said. “This isn’t our first rodeo, just our closest rodeo.”
Jamie Miller and her roommate, Jessica Roukema, who lives on Tripp Creek Lane, had spent the week anxiously watching the fire inch closer to their home. The roommates had been contemplating leaving to avoid smoke in the valley but have decided to stay until they receive an official evacuation order.
“We watched the fire from the beginning, and we could see it growing slowly,” Miller said. “You could see the smoke column from our house perfectly. After Monday, we’re like, ‘It’s time to get ready because it’s going to come this way.’”
Roukema is leaving to spend the weekend in Denver and is worried she won’t be able to return to her house when she gets back. She plans to pack most of her belongings before she leaves so her roommates can grab them should they be evacuated.
Miller said the proximity of the fire to their home has made them antsy.
“We’re super anxious,” she said. “Even at night when you’re sleeping because you don’t know what’s happening so much. We’re all just kind of waiting for that phone call or that text message.”
Jan Karr, who lives next door to Miller and Roukema, was frightened when she received the pre-evacuation notice.
“Now, I’ve got the anxiety attacks real bad,” Karr said. “When they give you the pre-evacuation notice, the hairs on your arms rise up.”
Karr and her husband don’t own cellphones, so most of the information they receive has been from neighbors. Law enforcement has also done a good job of providing information and clarifying questions, she said.
“I want to bake a whole bunch of pies for everybody,” Karr said. “But not today.”
Karr said she packed dog food and supplies by the door should they need to leave quickly. She also packed medical supplies and other personal items.
“I got a few heirlooms that are pretty special to me, and a photo album,” she said. “I’m in my 70s, my husband is 80. You can’t just replace things like that.”
Jeanie Emigh and Ken Hunter were on vacation in London and arrived home at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Sometimes, luck can be found in the grimmest of circumstances. If the couple had come home at a later time, they may not have been able to go to their home to retrieve their belongings.
Besides personal documents and family heirlooms, Emigh and Hunter say the thing they are most glad to have is each other.
“I grabbed him, and he grabbed me,” Jeanie Emigh said Thursday morning at the evacuation center. “We have each other, and that’s all that counts.”