The Turning Point: Leadville’s Treasure Fire
June 23, 2012 will always be a memorable date in the Leadville Today archives. Can you guess what the event was? Yep, that’s right, The Treasure Fire.
Up until then, Leadville Today’s readership was growing, but the event that would begin to unfold that late June day, would not only mark a significant day in Lake County’s history, but would catapult this online news source, into an entirely different level.
Thousands of people logged on to the website every day to keep apprised of the situation. And since most of the Denver media was busy covering the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire, LT was the ONLY media on site, every day, keeping residents informed.
In fact, it was a particular honor when the big city media – including the Denver Post – referred readers and viewers to Leadville Today for information about the Treasure Fire. It forever changed things, and brought with a slew of readers that remain faithful to this day, continuing to log on daily, to read the good news and need-to-know information concerning Leadville and Lake County.
There was one story from that event that I wanted to write about, but never got around to it. So Leadville Today’s 2nd Anniversary seemed like a good time to share it. Not only is it one of the more touching tributes I’ve had the honor to report, but because of its association with the Treasure Fire, it also plays a significant role in Leadville Today’s short history. I hope you like it.
Putting Out Fires Along the Road to Redemption
By Kathy Bedell, Leadville Today © 2013
The Juniper Valley Fire Crew. Never heard of them? Well, in many ways, Leadville and Lake County owe them a huge debt of gratitude. This is a group of hard working guys, who don’t often hear the words “thank you.” But it’s due. In fact, it’s long over due.
When it comes to stories about redemption and overcoming the things from our past, The Juniper Valley Fire Crew rises, literally, like a phoenix from the ashes.
The first Treasure Fire morning briefing held at Ice Palace Park, lingers in my memory like the smoke that hung in the dawn’s first light. Everyone there seemed to be covered in a layer of soot and ashes, as firefighters from around the country stood in the chow line. I had never covered an event like that before, but something immediately got my attention.The Juniper Valley Fire Crew can be seen in the background as then Leadville Ranger Jon Morrissey discusses the effects of high altitude with Treasure Fire firefighters.
There were a group of firefighters who were clearly sitting apart from the rest of the troops, up by where the playground area is at the park. I didn’t make the connection at first. But on that second day, I was encouraged to interview a guy by the name of John O’Brien, crew boss with the Juniper Valley Fire Crew. It was then that the picture came into focus.
Interview with Juniper Valley Fire Crew Boss John O’Brien
This group was from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. These were the inmates, the offenders, the prisoners who were part of a special program. They were the MEN who made up the Juniper Valley Fire Crew (JVFC).
The JVFC has been in operation for over ten years now. The program takes offenders from the system into a firefighters organization, teaches them a trade and work ethic along with the skills to help them integrate into society when they are released from prison. In fact, some of the success stories include former inmates going on to work for the Forest Service on fire mitigation crews.
“It’s a very stringent program that allows only non-violent offenders,” explains John O’Brien, JVFC’s crew boss at the Treasure Fire. Additionally, the offenders who are chosen for the program are pretty close to the end of their sentence. The program also allows for an exchange component, so that for every day worked on the fire, they are working towards an earlier release date. Not only does that motivate the individual, but it saves thousands of dollars for the state through early release.
When they are not actively fighting fires, the JVFC is engaged in mitigation work through timber stand improvement and pre-burns for prescribed fires in the area.
That first, very intense week of the Treasure Fire, there were 18 crew from JVFC on the scene. And make no mistake about it, these were the guys on the very front line, the ones closest to the flames, the ones most at risk. They were also usually the last guys to come in from a day of fighting the highest wildfire on record, and often, the last guys in the chow line.
But during that week that the Treasure Fire loomed north of Leadville with its intimidating smoke, threatening to march its way into our fine mountain town, they were our heroes.
And for that – Thank You and Best of Luck for your future!Leadville kids made Thank You posters for the firefighters.
Leadville Hospital Raises Funds for Long Term Care Bus
The St. Vincent Hospital (SVH) Foundation is holding a silent auction through Thursday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. to raise funds for their “Long Term Care” Bus. The fundraiser is being held in the SVH Leadville Medical Clinic lobby located at 825 W 6th Street in Leadville.Let the bidding begin for the St. Vincent Hospital Foundation fundrasier through Thursday, Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. in the lobby of the Medical Clinic.
The new vehicle will be equipped for physically-challenged patients who need transportation for off-site medical appointments, as well as social activities that are beneficial for a long-term care patient’s well-being.Heirloom Dolls for Christmas!
If you’re already doing some holiday shopping, why not get a good deal and help raise money for a good cause!?
So stop by the Silent Auction in the lobby of the Medical Clinic (several times) and note your bid for the following items generously donated by local businesses and individuals:
- 2013/14 Season Pass to Ski Cooper
- Melanzana Hoodie (in any size)
- Zip Line tickets for 2 from Top of The Rockies Zip Line
- Hydrating Facial from Mountain Skintastic
- Gift certificate from the Grill Bar and Café
- 4 large collectable heirloom dolls
- 2 lbs of Coffee from City on a Hill
- Facial Scrub from Blue Earth
- Books, art and Jewelry from Bookmine, Hundley’s Old Tyme Gifts and Aspen Traders
- 1970’s Vintage Pepsi machine
- 2004 large screen HDTV
- Industrial free standing air conditioner/evaporative cooler