June 9th was a beautiful, pristine morning. I was heading up to Sky Corral Ranch to hang lights for the knighting ceremony that was to take place during Christ in the Rockies, a Father-Son camp I direct. I stopped at the Bellevue Bean for a cup of coffee and then headed up to Rist Canyon. When I got to the top of Rist Canyon, I spotted a plume of smoke off to the southwest, but I didn’t really pay much attention.
I continued on my way and arrived at Sky Corral Ranch around 9:15am. When I arrived they were setting up for an outdoor wedding, and they asked me not to come down into camp because it would disturb the wedding party. They also mentioned that they were on evacuation alert, and the sounding of the extended dinner bell meant that we had to leave immediately.
I worked up there all morning hanging lights, and I was having a great time. I’d come out and look at the plume every once in a while. Sometimes it was high and sometimes it was out. At one point, I even thought they must have put the fire out. It really was a beautiful day.
But by 11:30am, things were changing. All of the sudden, within the span of 10 minutes, the temperature dropped 10 or 15 degrees, and I heard a roar. The wind started to pick up. By noon I felt uneasy. It was still sunny where I was, but it was dark to the southwest. Then, all of the sudden, within the span of 10 minutes, the temperature dropped 10 or 15 degrees, and I heard a roar. This wasn’t like the constant ebb and flow of sound in the woods. It was like a roar and running water at the same time in the distance. When I looked below again, I noticed the Sky Corral Ranch horses had been set free.
That was my cue. I packed everything up and headed down to the camp, and I found that I had missed the warning bell. The camp had been evacuated; it was like a ghost town. There was one rancher left with his truck and trailer trying to load up some of the horses. As I pulled up, he was just closing the trailer on the last one. The party was certainly over.
So I left. I crested the first hill. It was still sunny there but empty; no one was around. When I crested the second hill into the Steadman Ranch area, I will never forget what I saw. To the west, across a meadow, the entire mountainside was ablaze. I saw trees ignite like matches. It looked like they were writhing in pain. The whole mountain was alive.
By this time, I was in the fire. The smoke was around me, and I had to roll up my windows. I really had to focus on the road to get to high ground. The smoke was thick, like an extreme fog. When I crested the last hill, there was a guy running towards me. It was Justin Smith, the sheriff, and he asked if I was the last guy out. I told him the rancher was coming after me, and he said that I needed to hurry.
When I got to Stove Prairie School, the intersection was just buzzing with activity – emergency vehicles and fire trucks. I was able to get out, and they directed me down to Buckhorn because Rist and Poudre Canyons were closed. The only people on the road were evacuees heading down and emergency vehicles heading up, their lights and sirens blazing.
When I got into cell range, I pulled over and called my wife. The second call I made was to one of our board members because we had fathers and sons on their way, and our camp, for the second year in a row, homeless. Last year there was a fire at Saint Malo near Estes Park.
That afternoon we called an emergency Christ in the Rockies Board meeting, and it was like nothing else. Not one person was freaking out. We spent thirty minutes just seeking the Lord in prayer, asking what to do. We had people in route from around the country scheduled to arrive that night excited to camp, and we had nowhere to take them. So we prayed, and we dreamed.
I was just praising God at how amazing it was that in a few short hours we had a new place.
It was really so much fun; we talked, and bantered ideas back and forth and laughed. Nothing was holding us back. In the end, we came up with three or four good options, and so we started making calls. One of the options was YMCA of the Rockies, and they were willing to lower the price to help us out even though it was one of the busiest times of the year. By 4:30pm we had a home. I was just praising God at how amazing it was that in a few short hours we had a new place.
The next morning I was up early packing, and I got a call from one of our board members, Darrel, that he was being evacuated. Despite his circumstances, he was still planning on coming up for the week, although he said he’d be a bit late.
We all met up at YMCA of the Rockies, and they were just so helpful. We originally had all of our activities planned out, but they all had to be adjusted. With their help, each day we planned out the next day’s schedule. The camp went beautifully, but of course we were all worried about Darrel’s house. Finally, on Wednesday, we heard that the fire had come within ten feet of his house, but the firefighters were able to put it out with no damage to his house. It was just an amazing work of God. He brought us through that week – what a ride!
We took a week off, and on June 23rd I was driving with my wife down 1-25 to Colorado Springs when I looked out the window and said, “Is that a plume of smoke?” The Waldo Canyon fire had just broken out. Later, on our way back to Fort Collins, my son Mikey called and said they were looking for me because that evening the Estes Park fire had broken out, and the road to Estes was closed. That was Saturday night, and our 2nd Christ in the Rockies camp was scheduled to start at the beginning of the week. It almost seemed like a joke. We got together and were praying, and by midnight they had it under control. The firefighters were able to reallocate resources from the High Park fire to do some big dumps and put out the Estes Park fire quickly. The next morning, Sunday, we were able to drive up to Estes through the fire area, and God pulled off our camp. Again.
I know that it was God working all along. Our circumstances were so ridiculously out of control that without several miracles occurring, Christ in the Rockies wouldn’t have happened. But it did. Praise God.
–transcribed and edited by Meagan Benedict