Each year, as life here at Basecamp quiets down, the leaves begin to change and the mornings become cool enough for a sweater, we reflect on the spring and summer and define those events that make each year unique. 2012 was the Summer of the Weber Fire.
On June 22nd, a wildfire began on Bureau of Land Management land just a few miles down the canyon from Deer Hill Basecamp. Dry conditions and high winds caused the fire to spread rapidly, moving towards Deer Hill and our hometown of Mancos.
The day after the fire began, Deer Hill staff was notified of the order to evacuate Basecamp. We were given 30 minutes to grab what we could and leave, not knowing if or when we would be allowed to return. Each person took a moment to say a quiet goodbye before driving out in a truck laden with boats, backpacks and long underwear.
Thanks to the rapid reactions of our staff, friends and family, we were able to clear out all that we needed to set up a temporary Basecamp at Doug and Beverly Capelin’s home, 35 miles away in Durango and comfortably run programs. Within the next 48 hours we had two programs set to begin at Deer Hill East.
Wilderness Leadership and Canyon Country participants arrived in Durango as scheduled and proceeded with program starts as if nothing was out of the ordinary. The Capelins graciously opened their home to staff, participants and those family members who drove their children to Deer Hill East. Delicious meals were prepared in the kitchen by the Basecamp staff and served at picnic tables in the backyard. Tarps were lined up on the lawn and the Deer Hill Outfitting Store was set up in the garage.
Meanwhile, firefighters from around the country were doing their very best to save homes, livestock and the Town of Mancos. 10,000 acres burned, over 100 homes were evacuated and national news teams swarmed the area. In the end, only one building was lost to the fire. It was the Boys’ Bunkhouse here at Basecamp.
After less than a week, we were allowed to return to Deer Hill, an undertaking managed with just as much grace as our 30-minute departure. We moved in the morning and began Colorado Plateau Challenge in the afternoon.
The scenery had changed drastically; the fire came extremely close to many of our buildings, but again, thanks to the heroic efforts of the firefighters, everything but the bunkhouse was spared. The steep hills to the east have been blackened while all of our irrigated pastures to the west remain verdant. Even now, after just 2 months, spots of new green growth are appearing interspersed with the charred trees.
Entering into Basecamp is awe-inspiring; there is no hiding from the power of Nature while looking across miles of burnt Piñon. It is also offering an incredible learning opportunity, not only for participants but also for each of us who calls Deer Hill home.
We can see how fire moves, eating up the landscape through which it rages. Wildlife – bear, lynx, mountain lion, elk and deer – who normally inhabit the high country at this time of year, have moved down to lower elevations in search of food and water. We are able to understand that the oak recovers more quickly than juniper and that just a little bit of rain speeds the process exponentially.
Fire is a part of life in the West, particularly this region. While it can be frightening and threatening, it is also magnificent and a piece of the process that keeps our ecosystems vital. Yes, this summer’s fire was a bit extreme, yet for those of us who live and work here, we have learned to adapt, adjust and roll with the punches.
To the families for whom this was unusual, unknown and potentially frightening, we thank you for trusting your child with us. We not only appreciate that trust, but also your flexibility, humor and kind words during a somewhat challenging time.
Our participants whose programs began at Deer Hill East were amazing in how they remained completely unruffled in the face of what were certainly some unexpected circumstances. Many of them did not even see Basecamp until the end of their program. When they finally did catch a glimpse of the charred hillsides, they understood that they had each become a significant piece of Deer Hill history.
Here at Deer Hill we teach the importance of communication, working together as a team, putting the needs of the group before those of the individual, and doing it all with a positive attitude and respect for each other. We had the opportunity to put our principles into practice and are proud to have proven that they work.
To have been a part of this summer’s adventures has been a privilege for all. We have borne witness to the human capacity to rise above adversity and face it with kindness, generosity, hard work and a lot of laughter. The summer of 2012 had the potential to look very different than it did, but thanks to our incredible staff, participants, their families, our neighbors, firefighters and the Capelins, it will go down as one of Deer Hill’s most successful summers ever.