Brief by Marcia Darnell
San Luis Valley – August 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine
The big story in the Valley is the big fire — the Million Fire, near South Fork. The blaze ate 9,346 acres, with more than 1,200 firefighters battling it at its peak.
Eleven homes were lost, another seven damaged. The start of the blaze has been traced to a load of illegally dumped sod. Authorities are trying to find the culprits.
The Valley chapter of the American Red Cross was magnificent, providing shelter, food and other help to evacuees immediately. Pleas for volunteers were answered promptly, and emergency plans proved more than adequate.
After the fire, South Fork celebrated the Fourth of July in grand fashion, thanking the firefighters, volunteers, and everyone else who turned a bad time into a better community.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the heirs of the original Spanish settlers of La Sierra, now known as Culebra Ranch, have access to the land for grazing, firewood and timber. The access doesn’t allow for hunting, fishing or recreation. The 77,000-acre property is owned by former Enron exec Lou Pai.
RR to Run?
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad hasn’t steamed out of the depot yet this summer. The Forest Service grounded the narrow-gauge train because of the ominous combo of sparks from the rails and too-dry forests.
Conditions seem to be improving, though, and the feds are talking about allowing limited train service beginning July 15.
The drought has affected the number of visitors in the Valley this summer. The number of duck nests at the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge is down to 32 this year, from a normal 102. Refuge staff are maintaining those nesting areas by irrigation. The Division of Wildlife will issue more elk hunting permits this fall, to prevent death by starvation of those animals. Fish are being relocated by DOW, as their homes dry up.
Human visitors are down, too. The Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve logged fewer tourists so far this year than normal.
La Jara celebrated a century as a town this summer. The big party included a parade (the first in town in over 20 years), a festival with arts and crafts booths, a chili cookoff and a battle of the bands. Here’s to another hundred!
District Attorney Pete Comar has had a guest in his Alamosa home. A mountain lion has been paying nightly visits to the D.A.’s house, leading to a high-level summit among law enforcement entities as to combat tactics.
Ride the Rockies began and ended in Alamosa this year, pouring a small fortune into local businesses. The Colorado Wildfire Academy brought in another $700,000.
As fires roared throughout the West, a blaze on Mount Blanca was stomped out by a helicopter and ground crew, before it spread past the one-acre mark.
Veteran jurist Robert Ogburn announced he’ll retire in January. The judge for the 12th Judicial District has been on the bench for over 26 years, and served as water judge for Division 3.
And in Division 3 water court, things will be busy. Many well users in the Valley are without water, thanks to the drought. The Division of Water Resources has decreed that permits for supplemental or alternate wells must be approved by the water court.
Apple for the Teach
Gerald Ellis, a retired 37-year educator, was honored by the guv recently, as Bill Owens designated July 6 as Gerald Ellis Day.