Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. It was a year none of us ever wants to live through again. The top news of 2016 involved events that came so close to disaster and tragedy that all of us are a little more aware of how fortunate we were to survive as well as we did. And Donald Trump was elected president.
It was as if all of the bad news around the world had found its way into our community: raging wildfire, a bomb in our shopping center, hash oil explosion and crashes into the reservoir.
The Nederland Fire Protection District, the Timberline Fire Protection District and the Nederland Police Department were involved in events that were so large they had to be turned over to the Feds for investigative and legal assistance.
It was a busy year for small and large events in our little town.
On New Year’s Day, four Nederland residents took their celebrating a bit too far when they threw lit firecrackers on the floor of the B & F Mountain Market. The group was evicted from the store. Later a fake ad on Craigslist led to harassing phone calls and emails, which, in turn led to a flood of support for the store from customers. At the time, local resident Janette Taylor was quoted as saying, “This whole thing is like Donald Trump. We should just ignore it.”
One thing the NPD could not ignore was the growing concerns about Nederland traffic, the gridlock that occurs during ski season and any major event, with hundreds of vehicles trying to move through town, over a bridge, on a two-lane highway. A police vehicle dedicated to traffic patrol was purchased. The NPD was also looking into putting up signs warning people about using Old Town as a shortcut around traffic.
On January 17, an Eldora Mountain Resort employee was reported missing. Ryder Johnson, 20, was last seen leaving Eldora Mountain Resort.
His vehicle was found at Gross Reservoir and an extensive search including helicopters and dogs took place but the man was never found.
Before the end of the year, two more young men in their 20’s were reported missing, but investigators say there was no connection among them.
In June, an Eldora Mountain Resort employee found a snow boot containing human remains at the base of the mountain. The boot was a single left-foot, size 13. A massive multi-agency search took place, covering about 180 acres, but no more remains were found. It was determined that the remains were not connected to the missing men.
Spring snows came and went and summer arrived early and hot. Mountain residents were becoming concerned about the number of transients leaving abandoned campfires in area campgrounds. Firefighters were putting out a few every day and responding to daily smoke reports.
On July 9, their fears became a reality when a campfire above the intersection of Cold Springs Road and the Peak to Peak Highway was blown by a hot, dry wind into an inferno that was unstoppable after the first hour.
The fire was called in by Sugarloaf residents and although the Nederland Fire Protection District firefighters jumped on it, the wind blew the flames into the trees in an area that was impossible to fight by land. Air attacks dropped water and slurry over the blaze, but it raged over Hummer Drive and then onto Sherwood. By this time every Ridge Road subdivision had been evacuated. An emergency center had been set up at the high school and evacuees were fed and supplied with clothes by a local team of Food Pantry volunteers along with the Red Cross.
Although the fire calmed down a bit overnight, prevailing winds once again slammed the burning brush into the trees and roared across Ridge Road. It was feared the flames would be blown toward Nederland or towards Magnolia Road subdivisions. By this time the fire had been handed over to federal agencies, and multiple firefighting teams from all over the country camped out at the Evans’ Ranch outside of Nederland, attacking the fire 24 hours a day.
By the time the blaze was contained eight homes had been destroyed.
Investigators arrested the three campers who had not sufficiently put out their campfire, covering it with stones. Two men from Alabama were arrested and charged with arson and a female was charged with trespassing. The men were sentenced to work release.
Two days after the fire started, a fire ban was put into place.
Community meetings were called, with local emergency agencies discussing what could have been done and what should be done in the future.
They agreed that mitigation had saved many of the homes in the fire’s path. They also agreed that local fire departments had set up defense lines that saved homes and kept the blaze from moving across the canyon. The Cold Springs Fire could well have ended up being the Town of Nederland fire.
Fire recovery is ongoing. What will be most remembered is the community’s reactions to the fire, how they united to help those impacted by the fire and to thank the legions of volunteers and emergency responders who gave their all during the days and weeks after the flames were gone but the reality of the loss was just beginning. A school wide “Thank You” ceremony was presented by Nederland Elementary School students in honor of the firefighters, law enforcement officers and volunteers that aided those affected by the fire.
For the next few months, meetings about the transient camper issue brought together myriad Boulder County agencies to discuss how to deal with the epidemic that, reportedly, is nation-wide. Even fire bans were ignored as people from elsewhere put our wild lands at risk.
On July 20, a body was found outside of a Big Springs residence that was known as a former illegal marijuana grow house. During the investigation, officers discovered hazardous material and the Boulder County Hazmat team was called to remove the potentially toxic substance.
There was no community risk. The deceased person was identified as Sebastian Smith, 22, of Nederland. The cause of his death was unknown, but not suspicious.
There is a warrant for the arrest of the occupants of the house for Criminal Damage to Property and a Fugitive Warrant.
A lightning strike ignited a wild land fire in the Smith Hill area of the Golden Gate State Park on July 22. The fire was in rugged terrain and the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office called for an air attack. The Vietnam era Huey made three bucket drops and extinguished the fire before it could get out of control. Temperatures remained high and dry.
On Monday, July 25, a Big Springs home exploded, the result of a hash oil project gone bad. Flames spewed from the roof as Nederland and Timberline firefighters made a quick attack and stopped the flames from spreading to neighboring houses.
The two occupants of the house were badly burned and transported to a burn center facility.
August and September were above normal in temperature and the drought continued. The mountain aspen display was one of the most brilliant in years and Nederland was packed with tourists heading to the hills for a breeze of fresh air as well as the golden aspen show.
On Tuesday, October 11, a Nederland Police Officer reporting for duty found a backpack in front of the police station and when he discovered what looked like a bomb inside, the Nederland Shopping Center was evacuated.
The Boulder Bomb Squad was called in and two robots removed the contents of the backpack which had been placed in the center of the shopping center parking lot. By this time the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been called in. It was discovered that the device in the backpack was a bomb that had been set up to be detonated by a cell phone, also in the back pack. A bag of white powder that turned out to be arsenic had been in the backpack. What had at first been thought of as a bomb scare rapidly became a clear and present danger.
After going through all of the potential explosive protocol, the bomb was safely detonated by the bomb squad early the next morning. The following Saturday, Oct. 15, David Michael Ansberry, 64, was arrested at Chicago’s Midway International airport for placing the bomb. He had been tracked down through the purchase of the cell phone found in the backpack. It was also learned that he had called the number at 9 a.m. and at 10: 17 a.m., while the bomb was in the shopping center, but the detonator hadn’t worked. Ansberry had been staying at a local motel and was seen leaving the lodge when it was evacuated.
Ansberry has been charged with the offense of maliciously damaging or destroying or attempting to damage or destroy by means of explosive any property used in interstate or foreign commerce. The charge was made by the United States District Court for Colorado. He pleaded not guilty at his first court hearing.
November broke heat records and was fairly peaceful. December brought in an Arctic cold spell with below zero temperatures that shook residents out of their Indian summer reverie and spurred them into pre-winter mode.
In the past year, two vehicles left the highway and rolled down the slopes above the reservoir, ending up in the water. The first vehicle was stopped by ice, but was upside down. The driver managed to get out of the vehicle, but disoriented, he walked across the frozen reservoir looking for help. He died of hypothermia on the far shore of Barker. The second man was luckier, managing to get out of his vehicle before it plunged to the bottom of the lake.
The New Year is upon us and locals looking back on 2016 can only shake their heads and say, “Good Riddance.”
It was a scary, sad and sorrowful year, more so than most.
And Donald Trump was elected president.