Three homes have been turned into ashes in the Basalt and El Jebel nook of Colorado. Poof, just like that, they’re gone.
One belonged to a volunteer firefighter who was off saving his neighbors’ homes from the Lake Christine fire while his own burned down. That’s the kind of we-before-me community we’re talking about, a mountain town that kinda, sorta has changed with the boom, but not really.
Basalt is near Aspen but it's not Aspen. It’s where a lot of people who work in Aspen actually live. It’s where, on overcast afternoons when the BWOs are coming off the Pan, there’s nowhere on earth you’d rather be waving a fly rod. It’s where you can swing through Two Rivers Café, crush a plate of huevos rancheros with chorizo and catch up with three generations of Eagle and Pitkin county natives.
It’s where my friend Carl Frerichs is the varsity football coach at Basalt High. His guys were hosting their big Fourth of July fundraiser when the power went out at the Roaring Fork Club. It was 6:15 p.m., right about when the Lake Christine fire ignited. Two knuckleheads reportedly fired tracer rounds at the shooting range near downtown Basalt. This whole thing was utterly preventable.
Coach Carl and 50 high school kids looked up to see jagged, 100-foot flames leaping across the mountain. Carl, his girlfriend, Lori, and daughter, Nora, were three of roughly 2,000 locals who evacuated.
”At night is when it’s scary. We weren’t going to leave, then you see flames that big ...” he said.
“It would’ve been so much worse if not for the firefighters, the helicopters, the planes,” Carl said. “I’m talking everything gone.”
The Lake Christine Fire has burned over 5,000 acres. It has 0 percent containment. The Spring Creek fire — that’s the one down by La Veta Pass — has burned over 100,000 acres. The Weston Pass fire has burned 1,200 acres. That’s the one over by Fairplay.
Eight major fires are burning across Colorado.
These have been special places for a long time and they will be again. But for now, we should know what they’re going through — what good people like Carl and his family, his students and their families, the firefighters and their families, are going through. And pray for them.
A little about Coach Carl, since you probably don’t know him. Wish you did. Salt of the earth, this guy. We played high school basketball together at Denver Christian, hit golf balls around the Overland Park muni, and for whatever reason often wore sunglasses at night. (I don’t know. We were 16.) But one thing we didn’t do together? Go to the mountains.
Carl never liked the mountains. Too cold, too buggy, too far from the city comforts of Denver. As he said Friday: “I don’t even ski.” And yet here he is in Year 16 as a proud resident of Basalt, a hidden gem I would never otherwise write about because who wants more people going where you don’t want more people to go?
“I’m telling you, it’s the people. The reason I’ve stayed here so long is the people of Basalt. The families, the kids, the parents, the neighbors. We have amazing people here,” he said.
Carl still has no intention of taking up skiing.
The community has every intention of bringing Basalt and El Jebel back.
That volunteer firefighter we were talking about? His name’s Cleve Williams. His kid, Cole, is on the football team. His wife, Kerry, is a teacher at the middle school. Carl has 13 seniors on the squad and almost all of them have played football together since the third grade. It’s a 3A football school, and this season looks good yet again. The Reuss boys — Trevor and Jake — are coming back, and the Longhorns are coming off the best season in school history, 9-2. They know that rivals Aspen and Roaring Fork are hoping to end Basalt’s run of two straight titles in the Western Slope League. Carl has been Coach of the Year three straight seasons. They run the “I” and win with “we.”
“You should’ve seen these firefighters. I’m not kidding, they probably saved 200 homes,” Carl said. “I told my parents last night there’s no way El Jebel is going to be here in the morning. And it’s still there. We’re all still here.”
Basalt starts football practice on Aug. 6.