Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Our mountain valley?s gratitude

The Castle Rock Fire team saved the Wood River Valley from flames that flanked Bald Mountain on three sides and threatened to consume ski lodges, ski runs and entire neighborhoods.

Had there been no fire crews to stand in the way of this fire and to battle it from the air, its path would have been clear to run wild in all directions. Where it would have stopped on its own is anyone's guess.

With no lives, homes or other structures lost, and the fire fully contained, all may breathe easier. The victory over the fire is complete, though mop-up crews will work for some time to ensure safety as the fire burns itself out.

The signs that bear the words "Thank you firefighters" that are posted on dozens of street corners, in cars and on businesses don't come close to expressing this valley's gratitude to everyone who worked on the fire.

Incident Fire Commander Jeanne Pincha-Tulley and Operations Chief Joe Reyes received five straight standing ovations at community meetings. Yet, there are not enough standing ovations, handshakes, or thank-yous in the world to express the deep gratitude of everyone in this valley to everyone who worked on the fire.

The planners, sandwich makers and support crews, map makers, meteorologists, police and sheriff's officers, the national guard, engine crews, hotshots, air tanker and helicopter crews, and support crews—all are heroes.

They saved the future of Sun Valley, the nation's first destination ski resort, and in our book, the nation's best.

No amount of money could ever buy the heart, dedication and skill poured into the fight by the fire team, nor the kindness delivered to valley residents by others who cared for them in every way.

With torching trees and two-hundred-foot flames that left the night sky glowing red, and the long river of headlights of cars loaded with evacuees fleeing in the dark, the fire's danger was etched into every mind.

Also etched deeply was the care that poured forth not only from friends and neighbors, but also from perfect the strangers—nearly 1,500 of them—who worked hard to save a community most had never seen before.

Baldy's ski lifts will be fully functional this winter with its ski runs and lodges intact—including the historic Roundhouse. That's amazing, as anyone who saw the smoke plumes on the mountain's top or the spot fire on Rock Garden on Baldy's face can attest.

Efforts must now turn to surveying and figuring out how to survive the economic damage inflicted on the valley by the fire. The valley will survive and so will its undying gratitude to the people who gave it a second chance.

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