Wildfires chase Fort Worth Boy Scouts out of Colorado

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The first sign of trouble for Boy Scout Troop 18 came early on the evening of June 19.

The 11 Scouts from Fort Worth were about 400 feet above the valley at the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch in Colorado and were getting ready for dinner. Then someone sensed there was a problem.

“Something didn’t smell right,” Assistant Scoutmaster Paul Taylor said. “At the same elevation across the valley, we could see fire and smoke.”

It was part of the East Peak fire that has devastated southern Colorado. The fire has now grown to 13,338 acres and is about 50 percent contained. It is expected to be 100 percent contained by July 1.

The Scout troop, sponsored by Ridglea United Methodist Church in west Fort Worth, did a quick head count and hurried down the mountain trail.

“We tried to calm them down and tell them staff would know how to handle the situation,” Taylor said.

The group reached the designated meeting place, and within five minutes a siren sounded.

“We were told to head to your vehicles to evacuate,” Taylor said. “This time, the flames were only 150 to 200 yards away and the winds were howling.”

They began the 14-mile drive down a dirt road and away from the fire. Everyone at the ranch, including troops from Granbury and Tyler, was evacuated safely.

A statement posted Monday on the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch Facebook page said “in less than an hour after sounding the alarm, SPSR Staff, Scouts and leaders were sitting at Carl’s Jr waiting for the Red Cross to set up a shelter for us.”

Scout Troop 18 made it to that fast-food restaurant in Walsenburg, Colo., about 18 miles from the ranch, where they spent the night in the Red Cross shelter at the high school. The Scouts range in age from 11 to 15.

The next day they started the drive back to Fort Worth. They were met in Clarendon on U.S. 287 by relief drivers, who drove the rest of the way home for the exhausted Scout leaders.

Since no one had made it back to the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch, the troop assumes everything is lost, including the troop trailer, dining pavilion, axes and other tools. Most of the Scouts got out with their day packs and little else, leaving most of their clothing behind.

The ranch staff said in its Facebook post Monday that it is awaiting permission from local authorities to send a 10-person assessment team to document the damage and start the cleanup.

“Please do assume that camp is 100% devastated, we will not know the full impact of the fire until the assessment is complete,” the Facebook post said. “Once the assessment is completed we will let people know the condition of camp property as quickly as we can.”

Once Scout Troop 18 confirms its losses, it will begin fundraising, most likely through the church.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna

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