Shanti Gruber had never felt that kind of panic before.
On Tuesday afternoon, one day after the Grizzly Creek fire sparked in Glenwood Canyon, she heard a knock on the door of her home in No Name, a tight-knit community on the eastern edge of Glenwood Springs.
It was the Garfield County district attorney telling her it was time to evacuate.
“And if I didn’t, there’s no guarantee that they could help me later if the fire came into No Name,” she said.
Gruber, 38, is a local high school teacher and used to stress. Still, at that moment, she “almost froze,” she said. But with ash falling from the sky, she fought through it, packed up some food and clothes and fled with her landlord, a dog and the outdoor pet cat Gruber managed to wrangle into a carrier.
Gruber, who grew up swimming in the Colorado River and exploring the canyon, called the fire “very traumatic.”
“That safe space and that grounded space for me is on fire,” she said.
Several people have now been forced out of their homes by the Grizzly Creek fire. Late Thursday night those evacuations expanded to include several areas to the northeast of the fire, with two neighborhoods at the head of the canyon also put on pre-evacuation status. As of Aug. 13, the fire was at 6,251 acres and zero percent contained.
Interstate 70 has been closed in the canyon since Monday, with no estimate for reopening, while more than 200 wildland firefighters are working the blaze.
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Public information officer Mary Cernicek explained it could be slow going through steep and narrow Glenwood Canyon, where crews have to contend with falling rocks and logs.
“It’s gorgeous,” she said, “but it’s also terribly rugged.”
Crews are also facing gusting winds, with high temperatures, low humidity and no rain in the forecast. Early on, the fire jumped across the Colorado River. It continues to burn on both sides of the water.
That doesn’t surprise Tim Trulove, a former Carbondale fire chief who’s been watching the fire’s billowing column of smoke with his wife, Karen, from their home just outside of Glenwood Springs.
“There’s little spot fires everywhere,” he said. “So an ember travels half a mile — boom, you’ve got another fire. And it’s just because the conditions are so hot and dry.”
The Truloves, both in their 70s, have taken all the precautions they feel they can. They’ve moved their horses to safer ground, and watered and mowed their property to make a buffer for the fire. Karen Trulove said she’s spent so much time on the phone with worried neighbors that she hasn’t had time to pack up the beloved heirlooms that fill their home.
“I mean, we have so much that’s important to us, it would take a moving van to get out of here,” she said. Instead, she worries she may have to just grab a few photos and vitamins “and call it good.”
But she does trust that if flames do start to turn toward her home, firefighters will be able to save it.
Starting to tear up, Tim Trulove described how grateful they both are to the crews.
“They’re great guys, great ladies, the way they support us and give us information, sacrifice their lives to do what they do,” he said. “It’s huge, and we can’t thank them enough.”
Even though there are much larger fires burning in the region — including the Pine Gulch fire outside of Grand Junction — Grizzly Creek remains one of the top priorities in the entire country for wildland firefighting crews.
That fact is a comfort to local residents like Gruber, whose No Name home has so far been spared, just like all the homes in the fire’s quickly-growing path. She’s currently staying with friends in the nearby town of Carbondale, an arrangement that could last a few more days. Or perhaps much, much longer.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there isn’t an overnight shelter in Glenwood Springs for displaced residents, though the Red Cross has opened a day center there to help answer questions and provide resources. On the other side of the fire, the Gypsum Rec Center has been turned into an evacuation center.
Gruber urged people not to be afraid to ask their friends and neighbors for help.
“This community is here for each other, and we just need to make sure everyone’s taken care of,” she said, with a weary smile. “Just keep loving each other. Stay safe.”