July 5, 8:30 a.m.
After a sleepless night, Basalt was a ghost town. But somehow, it was still standing. Smoke and ash hung over everything, and the mountain above was decimated. The fire continued up high to the north. Firefighters, hotshots, and first responders were the only vehicles on the road. No one was allowed back to their homes. The few residents I encountered looked like walking zombies caught between shock, disbelief, and frustration. We learned the fire was started by two locals using illegal tracer bullets at the firing range. Everyone questioned why the range was open at all. The Lake Christine Fire was now more than 5,000 acres and still zero percent contained. It would continue for the foreseeable future, and amazingly, thanks to the efforts of the community and bravery of a few, so would the town.
Update: July 10, 6:30 p.m.
After a week of mandatory evacuation, I returned to my historic Basalt house feeling like a little kid finally coming home after a long trip. The hill above me looked like a wasteland, but I know it will explode with life again. The flames still crackled, smoked, and smoldered above us in the distance, and the Chinook was still flying slurry laps, rattling my old windows as it zoomed back and forth to the river. The Lake Christine Fire currently covers about 6,000 acres. It has displaced more than 500 homes and destroyed three (one of them a firefighter’s). As of this writing, the fire was 35 percent contained. Across the West, there are some 60 fires burning, spanning hundreds of thousands of acres. As a changing climate fuels hotter temperatures and drier conditions, scenes like this will only become more common.
To all the firefighters, hotshots, pilots, and volunteers who saved our little town, thank you.