Colorado wildfire forces Boy Scouts evacuation
By ANGIE HAFLICH
The East Peak Fire in Colorado resulted in the evacuation Wednesday of local Boy Scouts and scout leaders of the Sante Fe Trail Council from the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch in Huerfano County, Colo.
On Wednesday night, 178 Boy Scouts from Garden City, Liberal, Dodge City, Lakin, Scott City, as well as Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado were evacuated from the ranch.
The local scouts, ages 11 to 18, are members of the Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America, located in Garden City. The Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch is the local council's camp.
"The team had finished its program for the day, and everyone had gathered for the flag ceremony, and that's when one of our camp staff members noticed there was smoke up on one the ridges, above the valley floor where the camp is located. And that's when it was called in to county officials," said Santa Fe Trail Executive Director Michael Stewart.
After notifying local emergency management officials of the smoke, Stewart said, they began evacuation.
"This type of evacuation, you account for everybody based on your rosters. And whatever you have in your pocket, that's what you're taking off of camp, so a lot of their personal gear and troop gear is still at camp," he said. "There was smoke and flames, so we just left."
Scouts were safely transported to Walsenburg, Colo., about 17 miles from the camp.
Stewart said there were also 45 scout leaders and 50 camp staff members at the camp, and that the John Mall High School in Walsenburg was opened for the group to use as a shelter.
"The community has opened its arms to take care of these kids with water and food, opened up the high school gym and the Pueblo (Colo.) Red Cross chapter came in and basically supplied the site with cots and blankets," Stewart said.
He said he didn't yet know the condition of the 430-acre property.
"Our camp ranger was the last person to leave the property, and he said that the fire had come down into the valley portion of the camp. I have no idea what buildings were damaged or anything," Stewart said.
He said the ranch is a popular attraction for kids because it offers opportunities to backpack and climb, as well as hone their scouting skills.
"About half the camp is 11 to 14 years old, and the other half is 15 to 18 years old, and it's the 15- to 18-year-olds who go back in the back country and rock climb. The younger boys really concentrate on basic scouting skills and outdoor leadership training," Stewart said. "The kids really like that natural type setting."
Parents of the scouts were notified that their children were safe through each respective unit's leadership, but in some cases, social media and cell phones played a role.
Luiz Orozco Jr., Garden City, said his two boys, 18-year-old Christopher Orozco and 14-year-old Jacob Orozco, were at the camp, and because of Facebook and cell phones, he was able to obtain information quickly.
"We found out (about the fire) last night, kind of through the grapevine, and then I started doing my own research, and then Christopher called my wife probably about 9:15 or 9:30," Orozco said.
Orozco said he is thankful no one was injured. He said he and his family experienced a house fire about two years ago and he was sorry his boys had to experience fire again.
"They've already been through a fire, so they know that stuff is just stuff. It's just material things. Everybody's fine, everybody's safe, no one got hurt and that's what's important," he said.
Many of the boys had left the shelter Thursday to return to their respective communities, but some, including Orozco's sons, were supposed to stay at the high school until at least today, as the younger scouts left. However, during his interview with The Telegram, Orozco and his wife, Dell Orozco, received news that Walsenburg was under pre-evacuation status, so their sons and the other remaining scouts were heading home Thursday afternoon.
Stewart said that once they have access to the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch, they will attempt to retrieve everyone's belongings that were left behind.
"We're going to communicate to them what we find on the camp, once we're allowed access, and we will help retrieve their personal gear and equipment if any of it survived," he said.