11:40am

Sun June 17, 2012
Reporter's Notebook

Returning Home: An Evacuee's Story

Progress is being made in the effort to contain the High Park Fire burning west of Ft. Collins. Hundreds have been displaced by the blaze including Denise Haines. KUNC's Nathan Heffel met Haines last Sunday after she fled, with an entire alpaca herd, from her ranch in Bellevue. 

I met Denise just hours after she and her 140 alpaca arrived at the evacuation center at The Ranch in Loveland. Tired and shell-shocked – Haines was deeply concerned for her animals. Some very old and others just days from giving birth.

Haines and her herd have been staying at The Ranch since June 10th. But, she does have a home to go back to. She says returning home wasn't easy, with the landscape dramatically changed from just days ago. 

Returning Home.

"It was kind of like a ghost town, none of the animals are there, and all of the pastures were empty, It was really a weird feeling. I got in the house last night and I went to turn on the monitor to watch the maternity pen, and I said 'Oh! There’s nobody there.' It was habit you know."

Denise's ranch, Daybreak Criations Alpacas, is just a ways from "Ted's Place" in Deer Valley Ranch. With a bunch of green roofs dotting the farm, she says you can't miss the place.

While all of her buildings survived the fire, the ranch went three days without power. Denise says there was a lot of food spoilage, but the real issue is her damaged fences and pastures. The intense fire burned many of them, and turned her pastures from green and lush, to black and charred.  

While the pastures that helped feed her alpaca are burned, Denise remains upbeat that her supplemental food supply will help keep them fed.

“We got somebody at the ranch cleaning up, and they’re gonna load up the feeders and we’re hoping they’re going to eat the hay that’s still there. That it doesn’t have too much of a smoke smell. There’s just tons of it here at the fairgrounds that people have brought. So it’s a good feeling, because we couldn’t bring our hay. You know, if we have to put a call for hay, we’ll do that.”

A Base Camp For Firefighters.

So what happened up at the ranch?  According to Denise, it was actually quite an important spot for firefighters battling the quick moving High Park Fire.

“We actually had one of the forest service guys come and he saw that we were up at the ranch last night, and he came in and kind of gave us a rundown of how things went at the ranch.  Kind of what all happened. And it was interesting to hear how it all came about and how they fought what they fought. I guess they used us as a base camp.  There’s a big pink X out on one of our pastures for the helicopter to land on.”

And, taking a lighter tone, Denise says she was happy the firefighters found refuge in her home.

“Looks like maybe some of the firefighters had some coffee. So we left the doors unlocked so they could come in and do whatever they needed, and it looks like they did.  So we’re glad they could...that we could help at least a little bit that way. You know, provide some caffeine.”

When I first spoke to Denise, she was worried that her entire alpaca wool harvest (worth thousands of dollars) was still in a garage at the ranch. She had no idea what she would do if it was destroyed by the fire.

What About The Wool?

After seeing her property – Denise says the garage is fine. But she’s still not sure what condition the wool is in.

“I haven’t had a chance to check it in terms of smell, none of it burned. But we don’t know if the smoke smell is in it. So, that’s our next thing to check...”

Larimer county has a wealth of information on resources available to evacuees including housing counseling. And the Red Cross continues to help those in need at their disaster recovery center in Ft. Collins.