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The Kruger Rock Wildfire in Estes Park

Right before Alan and I left Colorado for the winter, I wrote about our ride to Kruger Rock in Homestead Meadows. Imagine our dismay to learn that on Tuesday, November 16th, high winds blew a tree into power lines and started a fire in that area.

First the floods…

As I have mentioned in the past, I spent the summers of 2013 and 2014 living in Estes Park. In my “past life”, my ex and I had a home in a community called Carriage Hills. I rode in Homestead Meadows a great deal that first summer. However, the “thousand year flood” in September 2013 seriously impacted the Roosevelt National Forest and Homestead Meadows.

The Larimer County Park that operates Homestead Meadows officially closed the area from September of 2013 until August of 2014. However, I had friends who lived in Estes Park whose homes backed up to the National Forest, and we rode up to the Meadow from there.

And then the fire…

The fire that started a couple of weeks ago originated in the community where my friends live. Although Carriage Hills was not evacuated, the residences immediately east of my former home were included in the evacuation zone.

Kruger Rock Wildfire
Our ride to Kruger Rock and the location of the fire

The fire was quite small by wildfire standards in this area, destroying a mere 147 acres. However, Homestead Meadows is a historic area, with ruins of cabins and saw mills and other remnants of life early in the last century. (Read Riding the Rockies BEFORE the Flood and Riding the Rockies AFTER the Flood.) The flood damaged those historic ruins, and wind and snow have taken a toll. Now this fire has probably caused even more damage to these irreplaceable structures.

The fire was declared 100% contained on Saturday, November 21st.

Alan and I are not sure what we will find when we return to this favorite park next summer. We experienced enough fire damage this past summer to last us a lifetime. The Cameron Peak Fire and East Troublesome Fire caused significant damage in Rocky Mountain National Park and the adjacent National Forest.

Loss of life

Additionally, a great tragedy occurred as a result of this fire. A veteran pilot who was a member of a Colorado Fire Aviation crew was killed when his plane crashed while attempting to treat the fire. The wreckage of his plane was found at the south end of Hermit Park. A witness described an “insanely bright flash of light.” Apparently, it was the first time the Sheriff’s office had requested assistance from Colorado Fire Aviation.

How much is a firefighter worth?

There is still a sign posted at the top of our access road that thanks the firefighters for saving our community during the Cameron Peak Fire. If you ask Alan or me, or our neighbors, the firefighter’s value is priceless. But…

I was absolutely shocked to hear on television recently that California firefighters made a mere fourteen dollars an hour! Are you kidding me? I Googled it, and the national average for wildland firefighters is $53,704. Colorado firefighters don’t even make that, with their average coming in at $49,425. That is $26/hour. Plumbers make a better living and they don’t risk their lives! I had no idea the pay was so poor.

One might think that Hotshot Firefighters make better money… but that turns out not to be the case most of the time. Google returned this answer in response to my query…

How much does a Hotshot Wildland Firefighter in United States make? The highest salary for a Hotshot Wildland Firefighter in United States is $92,430 per year. The lowest salary for a Hotshot Wildland Firefighter in United States is $31,112 per year.

The average was $53,626, or $78 less than the national average for a “regular” firefighter.

I don’t even know what to do with that information. I have nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation for the guys and gals who worked their butts off to save the homes and terrain on our mountain. Do you know any firefighters? Give them a big hug…

And while you are appreciating those firefighters, help them potentially save your livestock by making sure you have ID MyHorse Emergency Identification Tags woven into the mane of your horses. Our new tags feature reflective strips exactly like the material in a firefighter’s attire. They need to be able to find each other, and they need something that reflects light when they are looking for your horse at night or in smoky conditions.

I wonder how my Estes Park horse buddies fared when they were given the order to evacuate immediately. Did they once again turn their horses loose (like they did during the wildfires last year) with no identification on the horse? No one wants to think about wildfires or floods intruding into their safe zone… but it can happen very fast and have devastating consequences. Be prepared!

Fire photos courtesy of Larimer County Sheriff’s Office

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