FORT COLLINS, Colo. - They say some people do things depending on the way the wind blows. It couldn't be more true in the mountains of Colorado this week.
Ranchers in the foothills of the mountains surrounding Fort Collins, Colorado -- about an hour north of Denver -- found themselves being asked to evacuate. Hard enough for the average resident in a traditional house to get their family to safety, but some of these ranches and farms often have dozens of livestock and horse pastures and barns filled with their animals needing to be saved as well.
It was a daunting task each day. Barn manager and horse trainer Katrina Ware has worked 16 hour days since Sunday, June 10, getting her boss's Shiloh Ranch horses to safety.
"We had 16 horses we needed to get out right away, but noticed neighbors with more horses and not enough trailers. We had friends help with a lot of trailers going back and forth here (The Larimer County Fairgrounds stables), but there was only so much room in certain size trailers for the horses, so we had to make multiple trips," said Ware.
"We had lots of help as the fire was coming right up to our property. It was right across the street. Some people had to cut the wire to their fences and let the horses run free. You could see them running everywhere. They seemed to be having a good time, though. We are thankful to have this place and have so much help," added Ware.
Stories of strangers stopping to help others in the burning mountains could be heard surrounding the 300 stalls filling up quickly at "The Ranch," the nickname for the livestock pavilion normally reserved for county fairs and rodeos.
Many horse trainers, owners and ranchhands told of selfless acts of kindness as dually trucks with horse trailers drove by on their way out each day.
"If they had extra room in trailers strangers would stop and ask if we needed help," said horse trainer Vince LeMaster. "We didn't even know them and they asked if they could help with our horses. We still had to leave two of them up there," said LeMaster. "We will go back up and try to find them tomorrow."
Depending on where the wind decides to blow, smoke from the nearly 48,000 acre fire can be seen everywhere coming from the mountains west of Fort Collins. The sunsets are an amazing mix of red and orange colors as the sun shines through on its way down.
Much like Cleveland, northern Colorado is in drought conditions. Colorado's governor declared personal fireworks and open fires illegal on June 14, even though this fire was started by lightning. The rain has been minimal with barely any effect on the fires. Reports of the wind from the occasional cloud burst causing more damage to the fire fight than help could be heard echoed at the staging area by firefighters.
But out of the destruction of trees and trails came one stroy of life. In the Shoreline neighborhood of the mountains above Fort Collins, Hillary Sheldon and fiance' of six years Chas Brandt were planning a home birth of their first child. On the Tuesday before the fire Hillary's water broke, so they proceeded with their plan with a mid-wife to have their baby romantically at in their house.
By Thursday, June 7, Hillary still had not gone into labor. By late Thursday they decided to go to the hospital in Fort Collins, but still with the intent of having a drug-free birth for Hillary and the baby. By Friday, that plan fell through.
"By Friday I lost my coping skills and needed a little assistance," said Sheldon.
Early Saturday morning just after midnight while the wildfire had not yet started, newborn Quinlan Jo Brandt was finally brought into the world. After a day of rest the new family with grandma brought in from Wisconsin for help, found their way home to a mountain home surrounded by smoke and an advancing fire seen above them in Lory State Park.
Thirty minutes later they were told to evacuate.
The next four days were spent in a hotel room as far away from damaging smoke for a newborn's lungs as possible. Thursday they found out they were cleared to return home by officials. Their house had been spared after a quick check by Chas.
Smiles could be seen as they drove through the mountain-pass road block which only allows in residents with an official orange card proving their residence. Thursday night was finally baby Qunnie's first night in her own crib.
Room service will have to be provided by mom for now.
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