‘Cold Springs Fire a painful confirmation of Nederland-area residents’ fears’


By Max R. Weller

John Thompson, owner of the Mountain Man Outdoor Store in Nederland, has been checking on campsites at West Magnolia, concerned about transients who are

John Thompson, owner of the Mountain Man Outdoor Store in Nederland, has been checking on campsites at West Magnolia, concerned about transients who are staying in the area. See a video interview with Thompson at dailycamera.com. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Read the in-depth report in the Daily Camera (also picked up by the Times-Call). Excerpt is copied below:

They saw this coming.

On the cusp of summer, Chris Current was one of many sounding alarms over the dangers to the Nederland area posed by increasing numbers of people camping on national forest land — and elsewhere — around that mountain town.

Current, the executive director of the Nederland Food Pantry, cited Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, which had been devastated by a fire burning at that time.

“It’s terrifying to us, because we’re surrounded the same way,” she said.

Less than two months later, Current and much of the community she serves have now seen their lives turned upside down by the Cold Springs Fire, which destroyed eight homes and forced the evacuation of nearly 2,000 people . . .

Current, speaking while the Cold Springs Fire was still being fought, said, “It’s tough. It’s really tough to see it come to pass. The sadness is that I don’t think these people were malicious or mal-intended at all. I just think they were clueless . . .”

Clueless. It’s a word that comes up a lot in talking to those seeking a solution to the problems — and catastrophic risks — created by homeless, transient and often just plain irresponsible campers who flock to western Boulder County, particularly during the warmer months.

Primarily, it is the designated-dispersed U.S. Forest Service camping areas of West Magnolia and Gordon Gulch that are seen by locals as being most under siege.

On Wednesday, Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson reported that illegal campfires are on the rise there, too, with three such incidents in three days.

But since the Cold Springs Fire was sparked by an unattended campfire on private property, it’s clearly not just a federal lands problem.

‘Dug in like ticks’

John Thompson, together with his wife, owns the Mountain Man Outdoor Store in Nederland. Like Current, he was voicing alarm about the camping situation well before the Cold Springs Fire. In its wake, his ire ratcheted skyward.

“They need to put a permanent fire ban. They need to put camp hosts at West Magnolia and Gordon Gulch. Left unmonitored, it’s like ‘Lord of the Flies’,” Thompson said.

An online petition was posted in recent days at Change.org, soliciting signatures in support of eliminating unsupervised national forest camping close to residential areas.

Thompson was motivated the day after the fire to visit both sites to post homespun notices he’d created to alert campers to the temporary fire ban put in place the same day the fire erupted.

What he found on his visits was upsetting.

At West Magnolia last Sunday, “Sure enough, there were three fires going. And I went back a few hours later, and one of the three was still going. I’m like ‘Dude, there are 500 people down the hill trying to put out a fire this morning,'” Thompson said.

The camper insisted to Thompson he had some beans that needed cooking.

“His attitude was completely lackadaisical,” Thompson recalled with palpable disgust. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever. We’re going to put it out shortly.'”

On Tuesday, day four of the Cold Springs Fire, Thompson again stopped by both Gordon Gulch and West Magnolia. He found no active campfires on that visit, but he did discover plenty of trash — and campers smoking marijuana, which is illegal on federal property.

Thompson was actually surprised, he said, to even find anyone still there.

“These guys are dug in like ticks,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Guys we’ve got a lot of concern locally about campers and fires, and you might think about moving on.”

Continuing excerpt:

While there is plenty of anger, there is also increased focus on what should happen next. Well before this month’s disaster, Joe Hall, who lives little more than a mile north of the fire site, had started the Peak to Peak Transients /Troublemakers Workgroup page on Facebook, which was devised as a way to pool information concerning problem campsites and relay it to law enforcement.

The name of that group has now been changed, Hall said, to the Peak to Peak Forest Watch. He envisions it as a neighborhood watch-style organization for the high country.

“That’s the official name. And we’re going to focus on watching the forest, and really increasing citizen involvement in getting out there to watch these areas,” Hall said.

“We’re also working on a website to transition to. And my goal is by the end of the summer to have a beta version of an app that people can go on with their phones and just take a picture of campsite or fire and have that go to law enforcement. I’m working with the app developer right now.”

Hall echoed Thompson’s suggestion that simply “moving on” would be a good idea for those who are perceived as doing little for Nederland and surrounding neighborhoods, but cause problems, ranging from shoplifting in local stores to triggering wildfires.

“They need to step up enforcement and just start patrolling the woods a lot more,” Hall said. “And we need to start discouraging travelers from coming through here. We need to make this area not suitable, inhospitable for them. They need to move on, somewhere else.”

Hall also underscored the fact that the Cold Springs blaze erupted not at Gordon Gulch, West Magnolia or other federal land, but on private property. Therefore, he believes that solutions people advance that are solely Forest Service-focused are not thinking sufficiently broadly.

Hall said, “There’s no way the Forest Service ever could have known” about Jimmy Andrew Suggs or Zackary Ryan Kuykendall, who were charged with fourth-degree arson for allegedly starting the fire. “There is no way any official agency could have known. The only possible way anyone could have known is if citizens saw something and said something.

“There is no silver bullet, and there isn’t going to be a silver bullet. It’s getting citizens comfortable reporting stuff, and getting information to the agencies and getting people to collaborate, to solve this problem.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a new member of Peak to Peak Forest Watch. My comments here are — of course — my own and do not necessarily reflect the position of either P2PFW as a group or any of its other members. Having said that, I’ll now say this:

I continue to believe that the most effective way to STOP the worst-behaved transients from trashing the Boulder County forests is to STOP the City of Boulder from rolling out the Red Carpet for them. NO MORE SHELTER / SERVICES for anyone who is unable to show a valid photo ID with a Boulder County address. Among many nonprofits in other cities, this is standard practice! Example: Haven for Hope in San Antonio, TX.

There’s a Facebook group (also closed) called Boulder Rights Watch, which is where you’ll find most of the apologists / enablers for the worst-behaved transients. Here’s a comment by Mike Homner, another self-styled homeless advocate, which will illustrate the mindset of these folks: “Of course they went there, blaming it on transients. Can’t use the word campers when you can instead attack a vulnerable population. So far three homes have burned and that is a true and sad loss for those homeowners. But let us all remember it was a firefighter who started the Fourmile Canyon fire just a few years ago that cost the area 135 homes. Certainly a firefighter knew more about the risks of starting a fire in the midst of a tinderbox than campers traveling through the mountains from out of state. How is it we forgive one and vilify another? What is the intent in labeling these folks transients? If they’d rented a motel, they’d be called tourists.”

Now, please bear in mind that Mike Homner KNOWS that one of these transient firebugs was convicted for raping a 15-year-old girl in Alabama, and the other also has a criminal record from there. I’ve gone ’round and ’round with him many times, because I object to his portrayal of ALL homeless people as belonging to the lowest common denominator (no more than 20% of the homeless, in my estimation, but they consume almost all of the sheltering / services provided, and Mr. Homner KNOWS this, too). 


Accused Alabama arsonists (Boulder County Jail photos) 

I consider it SLANDER to so much as imply that these two inbreds are in any way representative of homeless people in general. Mike Homner, you need to do two things: 1) Get your head out of your ass; and 2) Apologize to the 80% of homeless men and women who are intelligent, decent, and law-abiding citizens of Boulder County, CO.

Worthy of note is that the Facebook group Boulder Rights Watch has just over 100 members, while Peak to Peak Forest Watch has 300+ and counting.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mike!


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