I came to America to “Live The American Dream” for a few months, taking a break from South African life. Arriving in Creede, Colorado on the 17th June I never knew what would be waiting for me! 3 days later, The Blue Creek Lodge, that I had decided to call my home, was evacuated due to the West Fork Complex Fires, where 2 fires had combined to form one monstrosity heading rapidly towards us. I saw ‘Pops’ and Thressia Philbern, both in their late 70s, ripped from their home, their livelihood and their future.
Having been there since 1976, it was all they knew. As we packed up their precious belongings and family heirlooms, there was a heaviness left hanging in every room. This may be the last time they ever see Blue Creek Lodge, the thousands of photo’s stapled to the walls, speak a history without words. Thressia pipes up and says, while watching the boys dig out everything valuable from corners long since explored, “Well, it’s about time we had a spring clean!” This was the beginning of my experience of the town of Creede and its people in one of the most traumatic episodes it has experienced in all its history.
Streets are quiet, stores are empty and the extra stock ordered for the season, which is dependent on tourism, grows old. Only half of the 400 permanent residents are left, with the rest having decided to escape from either the smoke or the stress, but those who remain have something special about them. Instead of the expected expressions of doom and gloom, I hear people talking of having a drink by the fire followed by chuckles and giggles as they continue to make light-hearted innuendoes around the devastating circumstances.
The streets display signs that say, ‘Thank You Fire Fighters!’, an amazing public appreciation for the fire fighters who are risking their lives to save their homes. The optimism radiates throughout the San Juan Valley.
The people of Creede ordinarily are never seen much during the summer months (for they are consumed by the hustle and bustle of the tourist season) yet this year has turned into an unusual summer, with time on their hands to stop and chat! Though not much outdoor activity can be done with the smoke that has crept in, they attend the Creede Repertoire Theatre, and declare in true theatrical style, “The Show Must Go On!”, putting expression into action! This is where it ends, or should I say only just begins, with just days before the famous 4th of July celebrations.
After hearing the positive chirp by an older lady: “Well, it’ll be just like old times!” I am excited to experience, although rather different, a personal and intimate 4th of July in the town of Creede in 2013.