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For Evacuee, A 'Scary, Exciting' Airlift From Pinewood Springs

Colorado’s devastating torrential floodwaters washed out countless roads and bridges, essentially stranding many mountain communities – including Pinewood Springs. The small community of about 600 residents is part of the town of Lyons but lies within southern Larimer County.

Kerry Grimes has lived in Pinewood Springs for about ten years, along with his wife Allison and their dog Mocha. He heard the steady rain the night the flooding began, but the severity of the event didn’t start to sink in until the next day.

"We took the dog outside and we could hear the river really rushing... and we kind of knew something was up at that point."

“On the news there was talk of flooding and things starting to happen, but we were really kind of oblivious to that,” says Kerry Grimes. “But our power went out around 5:30 [Thursday morning], and that kind of woke us up. We took the dog outside and we could hear the river really rushing -- and we kind of knew something was up at that point.”

They hiked over to look at the Little Thompson River, normally no more than a small creek. It had swollen to 30 yards across, Grimes says, and looked about ten feet deep.

“It was like nothing we’d ever seen before,” he says.

Grimes tried to drive to his office in Boulder, but found the town of Lyons had already been cut off, with the volunteer fire department blocking the road.

Residents were advised at a community meeting Friday to conserve food and water, with the understanding they might need to hunker down for two weeks. It wasn’t until the weekend that the possibility of helicopter evacuations was mentioned.

That Monday, Kerry and Allison Grimes were among a group of residents airlifted to Boulder on a Chinook helicopter.

Credit Kerry Grimes / used with permission
used with permission
“It was scary and exciting,” Kerry Grimes says with a laugh. “Not that many people have been on a Chinook helicopter.”

Search-and-rescue crews made many of the airlifts using Chinooks in part because of the helicopter’s size. They can hold 30 – 40 people, as well as a sizable amount of non-human cargo.

“This being a mountain community in Colorado, most people have dogs and cats,” Grimes says. “They were welcome on board – although my dog was terrified. People showed us how to tie up his leash so his collar wouldn’t come off. The wind is so strong from the propellers – it’s really this hot wind that beats down on you as you approach it. You can definitely see how dogs could just take off.”

Grimes says the experience was a bit nerve-wracking for the people on board, as well.

“It was super-loud, so you couldn’t really talk to people,” says Grimes. “You’re kind of looking at people’s eyes, you know, for reaction and seeing how everybody’s doing, or hand signals, that kind of thing.”

As his group of evacuees were boarding, the pilot announced a change in their flight plan. Rather than going to Fort Collins, the Chinook would be heading instead to Boulder, possibly because the weather was more favorable there. After a surprisingly short 10-minute ride, they landed under sunny skies in Boulder.

“FEMA was there, everybody was really friendly, there was a ton of people helping, you know, giving water to dogs, and getting us food,” Grimes says. “It was kind of amazing, the support at the other end there.”

Shortly after arriving in Boulder, the evacuees were shuttled to the YMCA, where many people called friends or family to pick them up. Grimes says he and his wife are staying at the home of his out-of-town boss in Boulder.

"I've heard everything from 'two weeks'... to 'April.' We're just hoping for the best and taking it day by day at this point."

Both Allison and Kerry have received some good news; their home made it through the flooding relatively unscathed. They’re not sure when they will be able to return to Pinewood Springs, since the community’s two main roads were both so damaged as to be impassable.

“I’ve heard everything from ‘two weeks’ … to ‘April,’” Grimes says. “There’s so many other disaster areas in Colorado, that’s probably not super-high on the list right now. We’re just hoping for the best and taking it day by day at this point.”

One thing is certain -- he and Allison are going back, although he says they might make a few changes.

“We might buy a generator now,” Kerry laughs. “Maybe a little bit more food – we were a little under stocked when this hit.”

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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