News >> Browse Articles >> Fire & Rescue News


Family Closely Watching Bear Fire Wildfire

The Pueblo Chieftain

June 02, 2011

HOEHNE — Family members living on the Roberts Ranch just north of the Bear Fire were breathing a sigh of relief Wednesday as huge plumes of smoke from earlier in the week had shrunk to a light haze drifting over nearby rolling hills and mesas.

The Roberts family has spent the week watching firefighters from several states battle the wildfire, which has grown to 6,885 acres since it broke out Thursday in New Mexico.

“What can you do besides watch?” Thelma Roberts asked. Her eyes were fixed on the smoke-filled canyon less than a mile away and a steady wind muffled the sound of her voice.

“It is spectacular, but it is so destructive. The way it is right now, it’s not endangering any homes thankfully,” she said.

Slightly cooler temperatures and an overcast Wednesday kept the fire at bay.

The Bear Fire is burning on Horseshoe and Barela mesas. Fire officials estimate it is 40 percent contained.

Family members said they feel helpless.

Roberts called the fire “scary.”

“I’m not afraid of it being up there. I’m afraid of it being down here,” she said with a laugh.

Roberts said her home was built in 1859 and once was home to legendary Colorado state Sen. Casimiro Barela.

Barela Mesa named in honor of the famous senator who served as a territorial legislator, helped write the Colorado Constitution and represented Las Animas County as a senator for 37 years.

Roberts said fire crews have treated her family great.

“They are just awesome. There are fire crews making sure that we are OK,” she said.

Up the road at a home on the same ranch, Thelma Roberts’ daughter-in-law, Karen Roberts, expressed concern about her family’s cattle feeding on higher grounds in the canyon.

“We have more than 200 pair (of calves and cows) up there. We are worried about that if the fire blows up,” Karen Roberts said.

“It’s terrible that it (fire) has gotten so bad. When the wind calmed down for a while earlier this week, we thought for sure that they would be able to put it out,” Karen Roberts said.

A hotshot crew slumbered Tuesday night in tents near a creek south of Thelma Roberts’ home.

“They told us that our homes are very easy to protect, so that made me feel good and very protected,” she said breathing a sigh of relief.

Thelma Roberts said the winds have been blowing on her ranch since January.

“It’s not normal,” she said.

Roberts, who has lived on the ranch for 55 years, said she never has experienced a fire this large in the area.

“This is amazing,” she said.

Isolated precipitation fell on the Bear Fire early Wednesday afternoon, but the forecast for today calls for very high winds, which could lead to very active fire behavior.

Meanwhile, the Purgatoire Fire to the northeast in drought-stricken Las Animas County has grown to about 6,140 acres. It also is estimated to be 60 percent contained.

An incident command center is operating out of Hoehne High School and a tent city has been erected for firefighters on an old football field behind the school.

There are 400 personnel fighting both fires, including nine hotshot crews and two hand crews using 15 fire engines and five bulldozers. Firefighters from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota and Iowa are on the scene.

They are working in two 12-hour shifts 24 hours a day.

Firefighters have constructed and improved fire lines to protect homes and other structures.

Officials said there are ranches, outbuildings and historic structures near the fire, but there are no evacuations in place. Residents near the fires continue to be on alert and will be notified if evacuations are necessary, officials said.

Dawn Sanchez, a spokeswoman for both fires, said crews have been working feverishly around the clock since the fire broke out.

“There has been some speculation from folks that there has not been a lot of firefighting efforts from the beginning of this fire. We have had crews on scene since the beginning,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the rugged and steep terrain has made accessibility extremely difficult for fire crews.

“Not only the accessibility, but we also have had extremely high winds and low humidities. It wasn’t safe to put those firefighters in front of the fires,” Sanchez said.

“They have thrown everything they have at the fire, but unfortunately Mother Nature had different intentions for the fire. It grew rapidly.”

Sanchez said some local firefighters battled the blaze for 36 hours straight.

“I think it is pretty impressive that in three days we have more than 400 firefighters on the scene. The local firefighters were stretched thin and they have worked hard to keep the public safe and to battle the fires,” Sanchez said.

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.

© 2009, YellowBrix, Inc.