USA — When the Rattlesnake Fire threatened homes and the nearby town of Rye on Thursday, District 70 schools became the center of activity for both firefighters and evacuees.
Rye High School was set up as the command post for the law enforcement, firefighters and other agencies involved with battling the fire, which reportedly burned 19 acres just northwest of the town.
The remnants of a backhoe sit in the burned area of the Rattlesnake Fire Thursday near Rye. The quick-moving fire scorched the backhoe which was parked in the area.
Four miles away in Colorado City, Craver Middle School became the designated Red Cross emergency shelter site through Friday morning.
“We, at District 70, were pleased to be able to open our buildings to offer assistance where needed,” Ed Smith, assistant superintendent, said Thursday night. “We intend to allow them to use the buildings as needed until this incident is over.”
Law enforcement and firefighters used the cafeteria and break room at the high school to stage a meeting Thursday night and Friday.
Wildlands firefighter Ty Sugasi of the Platte Canyon Fire Protection District (left) and Pueblo West Firefighter Robert Hernandez work to put out hot spots at the Rattlesnake Fire near Rye Friday. The fire which burned approximately 15 acres has been contained and firefighters are in the mop-up phase of the fire to prevent it from re-igniting.
Outside the school, the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office mobile command unit was set up in the parking lot. It also served as a gathering spot for local media outlets covering the fire.
At Craver, Red Cross volunteers set up tables and provided snacks and water for evacuees. They also were prepared to keep any residents overnight, but by 7 p.m. the sheriff’s deputies began allowing residents to return to their homes. The shelter was closed Friday morning.
The school district also used the parking lot at Craver to park the school buses, rather than return them to the bus yard, located next to Rye elementary.
The buses were made available in case the town of Rye had to be evacuated. All buses had returned to the yard by Friday afternoon.
Although the schools were transformed into headquarters for law enforcement and a safe haven for residents, hours earlier they were filled with students attending a routine day of classes.
The routine was interrupted at 2:15 p.m. when thick smoke from the nearby fire began filtering into the elementary school.
District officials dismissed elementary and middle school students early because law enforcement began closing roads and evacuating homes near the site of the blaze.
Elementary students were taken to a nearby Methodist Church where they boarded buses and were bused either to their homes or to Craver, where their parents picked them up.
High school students also were bused home early and Thursday’s cross country and football practices were canceled.
Although the fire was fully contained by late Thursday, district officials canceled Friday’s classes at all Rye schools because of dense smoke that lingered in the area. All athletics events were held as scheduled.
Smoke seeped into both the elementary and high school buildings.
Monte Montez, supervisor of maintenance, said the buildings will be aired out over the weekend and will be reopened for classes on Monday.
“We’re going to be drawing the outside air in and add fresh air to the buildings. It’s a process that will take only about four to six hours,” Montez said. “It may still smell like smoke, but the air will be clear.”