Triumphs, tragedies of Colorado’s largest wildfire
On Aug. 13, 2020, the Cameron Peak Fire began its 112-day reign of terror on the mountains of Larimer County.
Looking back at the fire a year later, we remember tales of personal triumph and tragedy connected to the fire, as well as its lasting impact upon lives and landscape.
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Backpacker tells of harrowing rescue from Cameron Peak Fire
Colton McDonald will be hard-pressed to top his 30th birthday.
That’s because it involved his first helicopter ride, being trapped in the Cameron Peak Fire and receiving a warm hug from his father when he returned to his Loveland home.
“I was elated that I was out of there, for sure,” McDonald said. “But on the way home driving down the (Poudre) Canyon, I was processing the whole experience. I had set out to reconnect with nature. I had set out to catch a bunch of fish and have an adventure. And at the end I accomplished all that stuff.’’
‘Devastating’: Cameron Peak Fire claims historic Poudre Canyon property
Recounting memories of six generations of family working and playing at their 135-year-old Poudre Canyon property brought Sue Schneider to tears.
There were family gatherings, from meals to weekend getaways and public historic home tours of the Pinehurst property. And those times made all the sweat doing upkeep and fire mitigation on the 110 acres tucked along Norman Fry Road in the upper Poudre Canyon worth it.
Then in a flash, the Cameron Peak Fire consumed the house and outbuildings dating to 1885, leaving the Schneiders with only valuable belongings previously retrieved from the house, including a guest book dating to 1918, and memories burnt into the family’s minds.
Newlyweds look for light in the darkness after Cameron Peak Fire destroys their home
Hilary and Josh Embrey picked through the rubble of their Buckskin Heights home just days after the Cameron Peak Fire rampaged their Masonville neighborhood, finding little that was even recognizable.
A 12-cup muffin tin. A white ceramic coffee mug with “forever newlyweds” stamped on the front.
The mug, a gift from their wedding in August, was the only thing fully intact and a message “of what’s important to hang on to,” Hilary said.
While this Cameron Peak Fire volunteer was saving someone’s home, his own burned down
In the wee hours of Oct. 14, when the raging Cameron Peak Fire was racing to become the largest in state history, Taylor Clifton was saving someone else’s house from burning while his own burned to the ground.
A decade of building dreams and carving out a livelihood as a general house contractor in the mountains west of Fort Collins, spawned by adventurous authors he’d read, went up in smoke in minutes.
Every square inch of the home he had built, his workshop, excavator, all-terrain vehicle, side-by-side off-road vehicle, trailers, the truck he was rebuilding, hay equipment, childhood belongings — they were all gone.
Well, everything except a tractor that had been handed down by his grandfather.
Cameron Peak Fire volunteer firefighters share wins, losses from the fire lines
By late October, the 32 members of the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department had battled the Cameron Peak Fire for more than 70 days.
It was exhausting, exhilarating, expensive. Funding for their department doesn’t come from the government but from donations and fundraising events selling everything from brownies to quilts to wine tastings.
The firefighters come from all walks of life — there’s an astrophysicist, a carpenter, a veterinarian, a rancher, a Porsche master mechanic, a private investigator, a stay-at-home mother — all with the goal of putting out fires when the critical call comes.
Cameron Peak Fire’s long and historic run leaves stories of miracles and misery
The largest wildfire in Colorado history tortured residents and firefighters for 112 days, scorched nearly 209,000 acres and cost more than $132 million to fight.
As staggering as those numbers are, the Cameron Peak Fire could have been worse — catastrophically worse.
Bear cub badly burned in Cameron Peak Fire returns to the wild
The Clausen family is accustomed to having many guests at their McC Ranch near Masonville, which serves as a wedding venue.
But they never imagined a badly burned black bear cub huddled on their porch on the guest list.
Jeremy Clausen said his parents, Sylvia and Chuck Clausen, found the 16-pound cub on their ranch house porch for the first time Dec. 7, five days after the nearly 209,000-acre Cameron Peak Fire was 100% contained.
Volunteers get ready for Cameron Peak flood season
As spring and summer approached in 2021, volunteers with Serve 6.8 rallied to fill thousands of sandbags in preparation for possible flooding in the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome burn areas.
Poudre River flood survivor says he and wife were seconds from being swept to their death
Nearly a year after the Cameron Peak Fire started, its impacts were seen in devastating flooding in the fire’s burn area.
Had Jerry Wilkerson and his wife been held up by just one more traffic light on their 600-mile trip from Missouri to their Poudre Canyon property, he believes searchers would be looking for their bodies.
The couple made their monthly summer trip from St. Joseph, Missouri, to their cabin on Black Hollow Road in the upper Poudre Canyon, arriving shortly before 6 p.m. July 20.
After the 11½-hour journey, he pulled off of Colorado Highway 14 about 44 miles west of Fort Collins and was getting ready to drive over the private bridge that spans the Poudre River when the unthinkable happened.
And as we reflect on Cameron Peak, it’s impossible not to remember that it was just a piece of the hard, historic year that was 2020.
These photos, curated by Bethany Baker, capture what our community went through, including the fire.