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For Rist Canyon VFD, Life Slowly Returning To Normal Six Months After High Park Fire

Nathan Heffel

Life is still anything but normal for Chief Bob Gann and the Rist Canyon Volunteer firefighters. The High Park Fire destroyed one of the department’s stations and some of the volunteer’s homes in the area.

The Rist Canyon VFD was first on the scene when the High Park Fire was reported June 9. Soon, all of the department’s resources including 35 firefighters and 12 vehicles were fighting the fire.

While they were working to protect hundreds of homes, eight of the department’s firefighters lost their own homes to the raging inferno. Six months on, some remain far from the station.

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
Chief Bob Gann

“We’ve got a number of our first responders who are living in town or various places and are pretty busy so that’s a challenge. So our response time is up a little bit from normal.”

Only one first responder whose home was lost is choosing not to rebuild and is leaving the department.

Roughly $400,000 has been raised since the fire through a yearly fine arts auction as well as direct donations from businesses, groups and individuals. To Gann, that outpouring of public support has been tremendous.

Those funds will allow the rebuilding and improvement of 'Station Four.' The building was lost near Whale Rock subdivision, one of the areas hardest hit by the fire.

“And that’s going to be built bigger, and we’ll put more capable trucks which are going to improve the fire protection classification in that area. Our biggest efforts are probably aimed at improving fire protection class. That is specifically aimed at making sure people are able to rebuild and get insurance.”

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
Rist Canyon VFD vehicle on top of Buckhorn Mountain

Gann says recent donations could also help build an additional fire station near Buckhorn Mountain. ‘Station Five’ would cover the area where both the Crystal and High Park Fires Started.

“[It] has been on our strategic plan for some years… this would extend our ISO rating to a significant number of residences, but we have not been able to fund it. So you see, we can easily spend this money in ways that directly impact our ability to respond and will improve our residences emergency protection.”

Overall, Gann believes people in Rist Canyon are moving forward with a ‘pretty positive attitude.’ He says Larimer County has been working to replace culverts in the canyon to help alleviate future flash flooding, and homes are being rebuilt.

Gann says one main concern that isn’t going away anytime soon is the consistent lack of moisture. Despite the recent snowfall, the area remains at high risk of fire.

Editor’s Note: 6 months later, we’re examining different areas of life affected by the High Park Fire. You can follow this series here.

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