One year ago this week, a 32,000-acre wildfire ripped through Logan and Phillips Counties. It burned 5 homes, killed hundreds of cattle and other livestock, and ravaged farmland.
The community is still recovering, and also preparing for future disasters should they occur in the area again.
“It’s still fresh, and when you guys report on our Red Flag Warnings, and those 60 mph winds, and as farmers yeah it brings all of our nerves up,” said Haley Harms, a resident of the area, and business owner in Haxtun.
One year later, dry and windy conditions are back, and residents all over Colorado know this could happen again - at any time.
“If this is going to be normal, then we have to prepare for it,” said Harms.
It’s in the basement of the old Smith Hardware store in Haxtun, where that preparation has already begun.
“I think what this disaster really helped us realize as a community, is there’s a way we can be better empowered for the next disaster,” said Harms.
Donated food and supplies line the shelves - they're ready to help again in disaster, whether it’s fire, flood, or tornado. A catalog of its contents is in the hands of emergency managers around the 6 county region.
The hardware store became ground zero for the recovery effort in last year’s fire.
“I like to think that maybe we made that process of getting over that disaster easier," said Harms. Because we were available, and it was easy to stop by here and get the things as they needed them, and not be bombarded by carloads of things by people that just wanted to help, but where are they going to put a carload of things."
Harms, an archeologist by training, bought the Smith Hardware building for its historical significance, and for her non-profit organization Save the Site, which helps farmers properly recover historic, and prehistoric artifacts from their land.
Her archeology skills even helped a resident recover a cherished item from the ashes of her home after last years fire.
“Before the firefighters filled that back in, we filled two trash buckets based on where she told me she thought her diamond earrings were, and it took me about 8 weeks to water screen and get through it, but in the end, we found her diamond earrings,” Harms said.
A good moment from a bad loss.
More good news, Haley said most of the soils were not badly damaged. Likely due to how fast the fire was moving. Covering 32,000 acres in less than 6 hours, and because of the quick action from local farmers organizing oats to be planted soon after the fire.
“They had to plant something in all of those acres immediately for any chance of stabilization,” said Harms.
And those fields did return through the spring, and summer and the homes have finally been rebuilt, but there are some physical scars still visible on the landscape.
“Four and five generations of treelines are gone," said Harms. “The big thing that we all see and are reminded of every day that it did happen, is that around every home, they’ve lost their shelter that their family started or that homesteaders started around those homes.”
Trees that break up the wind and shelter homes, and also help prevent topsoil from being ripped away in the frequent and strong winds on the Colorado plains.
Today as the wind whips around that dry land, farmers are ready with lessons learned a year ago. Haley says fire breaks cut by tractors saved land and homes last year.
“Now a lot of farmers have their tractors hooked up to discs, and they realize the volatility of this area, and the wildfire danger, and they’re responding to that by cutting 30 minutes off their prep time because they’re already hooked up to their discs,” Harms said.
When a fire moves quickly through small communities, every individual can make a big difference and they did last year. Something the Harms will never forget.
“A horrible disaster, but an amazing display of humanity.”
For more information on how to help hit up Save the Site.