Celebrating July 4th – Let’s Do This Glenwood!

1403209861july_4_fireworksWhat’s more American than mother, apple pie and fireworks on the 4th of July?  To many it seems unpatriotic to forego fireworks on Independence Day. There is a certain adrenalin rush with the first boom reminiscent of the “bombs bursting in air.”  No doubt, it can be an awe inspiring 15 minutes.  The City of Glenwood Springs has recently received sharp criticism for shifting fireworks to Ski Spree in February. So, what is the solution?

For many fireworks on July 4th is a tradition that is hard to break.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am absolutely for a big celebration on Independence Day. We need to  celebrate our freedom, and be thankful for the freedom we still have! We need to honor those who have fought for that freedom.  I simply think there are other options than thousands of dollars going up in smoke in 15 minutes. kids-fourth-of-july Stay with me for a minute and see if that money might be better spent in others ways that bring the community together, actually honoring those who have served,  and coming together as a community rather than staring at the sky.

First let me start with some suggestions for things the city could work on for next year, because Glenwood cannot simply ignore this holiday any longer  These have been suggested by residents, business owners, friends, neighbors and family as a way that we could observe this great holiday.  I know there are many more possibilities, too! 

We could have an Old-Time Theme Fourth of July complete with pancake breakfast, parade, old time games and crafts for adults and kids, old-time baseball game, BBQ, marching bands, band or orchestra concert, ice cream social.Old_Time_Base_ball Period costumes could be encouraged with willing volunteers playing roles (Teddy Roosevelt, Doc Holliday, Carrie Nation, etc.) and wandering through town interacting with guests and creating photo ops. costume_1How about a vintage swim suit show at the Hot Springs or Iron Mountain Hot Springs? Would the Hotel Colorado be willing to give tours or “ghost tours”? Could the Frontier Historical Museum haul out its Linwood Cemetery Ghost Walk for a couple evenings?  Maybe even bring the Vaudeville players on stage at 2 Rivers or show old movies in the band shell;  how about Tom Mix and the Great Train Robbery?

2015-07-07_1233Or we could have something like a “Taste of the Valleys”   Everything from locally produced fruits and veggies, wine, honey etc., as well as local restaurants at Two Rivers. Maybe we could have a giant yard sale or craft fair featuring items made by people from Aspen to Vail to Parachute.  Perhaps we could include a laser light show, rather than fireworks. How about a giant slip and slide to cool off on a hot July 4th. What about an old fashioned street dance and bring back the classic car show!  In years past the downtown merchants had gigantic sidewalk sales that seemed to draw people along Grand Avenue.

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Another idea would be to make it truly a patriotic celebration to honor our current military, veterans, firefighters, hot shots, State Troopers and police officers, including those that lost their lives defending Glenwood Springs on Storm King.

We could do any assortment of these things and more!  Yes, we would need to budget for it and yes, we would need assistance, both monetary and volunteers.  The Chamber is just recovering from Strawberry Days, so to put this burden on them is not feasible. The city cannot do this on its own, but it sounds like there might be enough interest in having something that we could get some willing volunteers.laser_light_show

With or without fireworks, Glenwood is in a unique position to put together a wonderful way to celebrate July 4th, honor those who have served and who continue to serve our nation and provide a great experience for residents and visitors alike. Again, Glenwood cannot simply ignore this important holiday.

The current City Council has been raked over the coals in social media for not having fireworks.  Some have argued that we had a much wetter spring than normal and therefore should have had fireworks now.  However, this decision was made during the last budgeting and grant cycle and the budget was approved in late 2014.   Additionally, although I am new to Council, having been elected in April,  I understand it takes lead time of longer than a few weeks to find a purveyor of fireworks that can put something together on the magnitude that Glenwood would like to see.

firefighter_memorialHaving been a Glenwood resident through both the Storm King and Coal Seam fires, I will admit that I don’t want to do anything that could possibly cause something like that devastation again.

Yes, fireworks is the go-to tradition.  But lets give folks more reasons to celebrate our nation’s independence in Glenwood Springs. Next year, July 4th is on a Monday – lets begin now to make a new tradition in Glenwood.

Interested?  Let me know. The city will be starting the budget process for next year soon!  And if you absolutely cannot do without your fireworks on July 4th in spite of some different possibilities — let me know that too. I am listening – really. Comments welcome on this blog or  email me at kathryn.trauger@cogs.us or call me at 379-4849. 

Storm King fire – Hell on Earth

This is a reprint of a column I did for the Glenwood Post Independent on the Storm King Fire in 1994

“This is bad. This is very bad.”

These are the words that I remember my brother, a former firefighter, uttering as we watched the Storm King fire blow up from our deck in West Glenwood as the ash fell around us.

Returning from Yellowstone July 3 and driving along I-70 through the South Canyon area, I remember seeing a small fire on the side of the mountain, thinking that it was odd that there really were no firefighting efforts that I could see. It had been a hot, dry June, and July did not look promising.

ONLY 11 ACRES

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Fire at Noon July 4, 1994. Image courtesy of South Canyon Investigation Report

The following day we planned to celebrate July Fourth. The day after, July 5, was my youngest son’s 10th birthday — all causes for celebration. The fire was not as large as others that had ignited over the region. Resources were thin.

According to the South Canyon Investigation Report, on July 4, the fire was given a higher priority than some others in the area in response to concerns from Glenwood Springs residents. An aerial observer reported that the fire was in “… steep and inaccessible terrain.” It was covering only 11 acres.

On July 5, Incident Command called for an air tanker to support ground crews that had been sent to cut a helicopter landing area and fire line. A 20-person crew was also ordered, but eight smokejumpers were substituted for the ground crew. The air tanker was called off because of winds, steep terrain and the potential of causing rocks to roll onto I-70. The fire grew to 50 acres. We celebrated my son’s birthday.

COLD FRONT

It was back to work on the morning of July 6. Weather predictions called for gusty winds associated with a cold front. The Prineville Interagency Hotshot Crew was assigned to the fire and arrived at the helibase at 11 a.m. and half the crew were on the fire by 12:30 p.m.

Sometime shortly after noon, I was in my supervisor’s office and I looked out the window and the smoke from the fire was billowing ominously west of my house. The sky was turning a dirty brown-orange from the smoke. I pointed out the window and told my boss that I had to head home.

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Image courtesy of South Canyon Investigation Report

A flare-up had caused a group of smokejumpers to retreat up the fire line to the top of a ridge. According to the South Canyon Investigation Report, several firefighters expressed concern about the safety of tactical decisions. However, a water drop via helicopter cooled the flare-up and they continued.

My home in West Glenwood borders BLM land in back and the golf course on the front. I arrived home to find my family on the west-facing deck that looks directly out on Storm King Mountain. They were watching as a helicopter dipped into the lake on the golf course and flew back to the fire. The wind had picked up and the fire was making its way east — quickly.

Soon, my brother arrived. As a firefighter in California, he had been called to fight numerous wildfires in the hills and mountains west of Los Angeles. He also specializes in wildfire mitigation. He understood the situation. And while I was trying to determine what to throw into our RV should we needed to evacuate, his concern was for the firefighters.Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 8.08.18 AM

By 3 p.m., the other half of the Prineville Hotshots were on the fire. Winds began to pick up and the smoke grew thicker as the fire activity increased. By then my brother was quite concerned about the wind and the effect it would have on the fire.

“Someone is going to get hurt,” he observed.

HELL ON EARTH

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Image courtesy of South Canyon Investigation Report

At 4 p.m., all hell broke lose. The fire exploded. Incident Command called for the firefighters to come up from the bottom of the fire line. One jumper radioed that the fire was “rolling.” The fire spotted to an area just below the crew walking out.

Firefighters Kevin Erickson and Brad Haugh were above the crew encouraging them. Haugh said later that it appeared the crew was unaware of the spot fire below them until they heard its roar. Haugh, Erickson and crew member Eric Hipke made a run for the ridge while the rest of the crew deployed their shelters.

According to the investigation report, “as the three running firefighters dove over the ridgetop, 200-foot flames blasted over the ridge …” Hipke was knocked down by the force of the heat and flames. Pushed by 40 mph winds, the spot fire reached the ridge line in 2 minutes. The rest of the crew — Don Mackey, Roger Roth, James Thrash, Jon Kelso, Kathi Beck, Scott Blecha, Levi Brinkley, Bonnie Holtby, Rob Johnson, Tami Bickett, Doug Dunbar and Terri Hagen — died just short of the ridgetop. Helitack crew members Richard Tyler and Robert Browning raced along a ridge above Helispot 2 when their route was cut off by a steep chute. The fire overtook them as they attempted to cross the chute.Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 8.13.14 AM

From our deck, we watched as the flames crested the ridge. It was very bad indeed — worse than we could know or ever imagine. Storm King Mountain stands as a silent memorial to those 14 fallen firefighters and their teammates whose lives were changed forever. We will never forget.