June 22, 2012
As the High Park Fire spread up the Poudre Canyon on June 12, the last of the Pingree Park staff on campus locked the gate as evacuation orders were issued for the area.
Groups like a natural resources summer class and Preview Mountain Experience, scheduled at Pingree that week, had already been relocated to the main campus over the weekend as a proactive safety precaution, and the seasonal staff had left the day before.
True to character Pat Rastall, the director, had stayed as long as possible and said upon departure, “The Pingree Campus was fine and looked great when we locked the gate and said goodbye. We hope to be open again soon!”
“Soon” turned out to be just a few days later when, on June 15, with the High Park Fire still growing, the Incident Command Center asked the CSU Public Safety Team if they would consider reopening the Pingree Park campus as a spike camp, a secondary fire camp to provide firefighters more direct access to the portion of the Western perimeter they were fighting. Fire crews were currently spending two to three hours driving to the fire line and back each day from base camp on the edge of Fort Collins. A spike camp at Pingree would cut that travel time down dramatically
The Incident Command Center identified the Pingree valley as a safe zone for the camp, partially based on the current location of the High Park Fire, and also because a 1994 wildfire had created a natural fire line around the campus.
Colorado State answered the call for help and the Pingree staff rallied overnight. By 8 a.m. the next morning, June 16, just four days after evacuating, twenty-four staff members (four professional staff and 18 seasonal and student staff) who volunteered to return to the camp were heading back in an escorted caravan up to Pingree. The crew arrived mid-day and by that evening, they served dinner to 135 firefighters.
The Pingree valley, usually filled in June with students doing field work and conference groups on the ropes course, was now filled with fire trucks and crew tents. The Pingree staff has since provided clean beds, showers breakfast and dinner to the hard-working hot shot crews at the spike camp. Hot shot crews are highly-trained and multi-skilled professional firefighters who work the hottest and most technical sections of the fire line. They require 6,000 calories a day to keep up their strength and energy levels, making a hot breakfast and dinner a critical part of the fire-fighting efforts. By June 20, the Pingree staff was feeding 280 firefighters with 270 camping in the valley and another 40 using the South Dorm as daytime sleeping accommodations.
“The most important thing for all of us is supporting the fire crew, we are helping them do such an important job,” Rastall says. “Most of us have never done this before so there’s also a sense of adventure and excitement seeing and supporting hot shot crews from around the country.”
To ensure that the parents and family members of the student staff are well-informed, Housing and Dining Services provides daily updates and photos. The amount of support and pride on the part of the families has been exceptional. One family member wrote, “I wanted to say thank you for not only opening the Pingree campus to the firefighters, but also providing this amazing opportunity to our kids to make a difference, and to be able to give back to those who so selflessly give to us.”
Another parent wrote, “I am so proud my daughter can be part of this crew!”
The Public Safety Team also is receiving daily updates about the Pingree Park efforts.
Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
Phone: (970) 491-6009