Entering the Wal-Mart parking lot Thursday night, the sheer number of RVs, campers and packed SUVs drove the dire situation of the fires in the San Juan Mountains home.
There were people, most of them well over age 50, wandering the aisles of the big box, holding hands and mumbling between themselves. What obviously began as a nice summer get-away had turned into a nightmare.
I stood in line with my little purchase of printer ink, allergy pills and the makings of a meal for one, while many of the others in line were buying necessities. The woman in front of me said they always spent the summers at Fun Valley, but they were ordered to evacuate.
Walking out, I saw two older women sitting on a lawn sofa that was on display and one of them was nodding off. Some of the campers werenít really self-contained and theirs was apparently one of them.
As I headed for my car, I observed a large group of people gathered under one of the mercury vapor lights. Walking a little closer, I heard each of them sharing the fact that vacation did not include parking at Wal-Mart, despite the well-lighted parking area.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how much I take for granted in my life. I knew that I would reach my home in just a few minutes and there would be lights, water, my bathroom, my kitchen and the conveniences of modern living.
Even when my brakes apparently went out as I drove eastbound on 10th Street, I didnít feel the fury that I might otherwise have felt. They had been making a funny noise and I had been too busy to take the car to a shop.
The people who were spending the night at Wal-Mart had no warnings to ignore. Summer, to them, was sunny days and mellow nights in one of Coloradoís high country refuges, away from the heat of the states from which they had traveled. They were taken by surprise.
Would they stay in the Valley or would they return home? The question hung in the air.
As I write this, the news is that electricity has been cut off to South Fork and, though cooler temperatures and lighter winds had slowed the fireís approach, it was close to town.
South Fork isnít just a tourist town, though a couple of the city newscasters described it as such. People live there year-round; their children go to school in Creede or Del Norte; their jobs are a short commute away; and Blimpies is always the place to meet with neighbors and share political views. They have houses, families, pets and hobbies. Businesses offer anything one might need and medical care is at hand.
I donít know what will happen to Creede. Colo. Highway 149 is closed in both directions.†
So far, I havenít heard of any evacuation orders, so I believe the fire has stayed on the opposite side of the mountains. Reports say itís following U.S. Highway 160, Wolf Creek Pass, as it heads for South Fork.
Firefighters from all across Colorado are there, just as they were in the Black Forest near Colorado Springs, and they are in danger. They are brave, intrepid and skilled, but are in danger every minute they are out where the fires are. I have been praying for them, that they will return home safely after rapidly knocking the fire down and saving one of the Valleys most pleasant places.
I am no longer taking anything for granted.