Thu June 6, 2013

One Year After High Park, Rist Canyon VFD Is 'Still Living The Fire'

One of the first agencies on scene of last year's High Park Fire was the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department. The department is credited with saving many homes even as eight of their firefighters lost their own. 

One year after the High Park Fire, Chief Gann says while things are slowly returning to normal, the fire is still very fresh in the minds of residents living in Rist Canyon. “We’re still living the fire. It is a daily reminder,” Gann said. “You walk out, you look around, you see different things…It hasn’t ended for us up here.”

Construction in the canyon is a constant reminder of the High Park Fire. CDOT is enlarging culverts to handle the increased rain runoff and flash flooding in Rist Canyon.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

The chief, now in his 18th year with the department, says the new worry is the increase in construction traffic up the narrow canyon as well as the threat of flash flooding.  

Mudslides and runoff have greatly increased because steep hillsides burned of vegetation by the blaze allow torrents of water to wash into the canyon during rainstorms. “We’re still living in High Park. It hasn’t ended for us up here.  People are pretty fragile,” Gann said.

A number of firefighters lost their homes during the blaze.  

Roughly a month after the fire, Chief Gann said the temporary loss of his firefighters was having a small effect on the ability of the department. 

Firefighters are still struggling a year after the fire, according to Gann, but the department is back to operating on a very comfortable level.“They’re struggling with it. They’re having a hard time. And one of them is re-building on Whale Rock, and he’s probably going to be in by the end of the summer. And another one has no idea when they’re going to rebuild, and a third is just getting to a point where they’re about to start.”

Gann says even while they struggle to rebuild their homes, the firefighters are still contributing to the department. “I’ve lost, I think, only two who had to move out of the area. And so they’ve retired for now. But we’re managing. As far as the department goes, we’ve gotten great support from the public…I think we’re probably in as good a shape as we’ve ever been."

Chief Bob Gann, left, stands with a $10,000 check that allowed the Rist Canyon VFD to purchase a thermal imaging camera. Gann say it greatly increased the department's ability to fight fires.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

While the fire season appears to be getting off to a relatively slow start, the Chief remains vigilant knowing the next fire could be just around the corner. “I still worry about fire. There’s a lot of unburned area here. It comes back and haunts you. I get in public environments where I have to talk about it, and I still get broken up. It’s hard to deal with. But we’re managing. We’re doing fine. And I think everybody is in the same boat…We’re moving forward.”