“We designed it. We built it. We made it happened and it was how we wanted it. It was literally our dream home,” said Pedro Boscan, an associate professor of Clinical Veterinary Science at CSU.
Boscan moved to the Davis Ranch area off of Rist Canyon five years ago with his wife Kathryn. Both Boscan and his wife volunteer for the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department.
“We had trees, flowers, a lot of wildlife, a lot of birds, chipmunks, ground squirrels…,” said Boscon. “All that is gone.”
On Friday, June 8, Boscon received a smoke report of fire in Rist Canyon area. The following morning he entered the fire zone prepared to fight the blaze.
“I thought ‘oh yeah, we’d be back in a week or so,’” Boscan said.
The same expectation was felt by Dr. H.J. Siegel, CSU Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who also resides in the Rist Canyon area with his family and has volunteered as a firefighter for the past 10 years.
“That afternoon [Saturday, June 9]… it was eight miles from where we lived, we calculated, and I said to my wife, ‘that fire’s far enough away. If this fire is going to reach us it’s going to have to burn through a 100 homes and be the worst fire we’ve had since we’ve lived here. We should be fine,’” Siegel said. “So I was right about it being the worst fire and many homes going down but wrong about us being safe. I never imagined that it could get that bad.”
Though most of Siegel’s 35-acre property remained safe from the blaze— only a small portion of his land was burned— others fighting the flame were not as lucky.
Typically, firefighters scrape a dirt path around homes to prevent the fire from spreading to the structure. The High Park was difficult to contain in this matter, however, because it was accompanied by intense winds.
“There were strong winds so it was doing what is called ‘crowning’— jumping from one tree to the next,” Siegel said.
According the Siegel, the High Park fire brought firefighters into treacherous terrain.
“The first Sunday I was up there, I was there until about midnight and what was very strange was coming down Rist Canyon Road. There’s no street lights out there, so the only light is coming from your headlights. On many sections of the road you’d have three-foot-high flames driving down on either side of you from burning bushes and grasses,” Siegel said.
During the first couple of days fighting the fire, the suspicion that his own house was most likely burning remained in the back of Boscan’s thoughts.
“There’s a lot of feelings going on. But I can tell you that at least at that time when I assumed that my house was burning,” Boscan said, “I was pretty much devastated and feeling helpless that I could not do anything about it; but, on the other hand, I was defending other homes, I was working on other homes, I was defending the Stove Prairie School and there was a sense of satisfaction, of joy, of doing it. And that was one of the things that kept me going.”
Boscan explained that he forced himself to step back from his duties at one point, overwhelmed by the intensity of his emotions.
“You know it crossed my mind: I want to quit, I want to move to a different country, I don’t want to live up here anymore,” said Boscan. “The reason why we live up in the mountains— it was gone.”
By Monday, June 11, Boscan learned that his house was indeed destroyed by the High Park Fire.
“Anything with green is dead. All of the trees are dead. Most of our property burned completely,” Boscan said.
While this news might cripple some, Boscan continued to protect his neighbor’s houses.
“I’m happy to risk my life just so they don’t have to go through what we’re going through,” said Boscan. “I definitely don’t wish that to anybody.”
Throughout the fight, Boscan and fellow firefighters worked long hours, many days in a row, sometimes without food or sleep.
“I was wondering why. I’m in decent shape but I’m not extremely athletic, and how can we just keep working and working and working and not sleeping…,” Boscan said. “… I was curious: what keeps us going? The love for the mountain, for our friends, for our neighbors, for the wildlife, it’s what kept us going.”
While the flames devastated hundreds of structures, it built up relationships throughout the community and CSU. Boscon has felt this support as both a firefighter and as a fire victim,
“Being a fire victim, we’re completely ignorant about what to do about the next step,” Boscan said. “Honestly, it has been the biggest help that I have seen from a university in my life in a major disaster— and let’s say that I have been in quite a few universities and a few disasters.”
The High Park fire transformed the city’s landscape as well as the community that lives within it.
“I don’t know if you have ever seen a bunch of old mountain men doing group hugs. I’ve never seen that in my life,” Boscan said. “Well now at our fire department, that happens every day…this is the place I have lived in the U.S. that I have lived the farthest away from a neighbor and it is the place I have felt the closest to any of my neighbors. And now that actually extends to Northern Colorado.”
For these reasons, Boscan and his wife have decided to stay in Colorado.
“We’re going to rebuild,” Boscan said. “The mountain is going to be beautiful three years from now. In a different way— but it is going to be beautiful again.”