By Jessica LeDuc
Blade staff writer
Most often, those of us in Kansas are far removed from wildfires. But last week, Boy Scouts of Troop 38 came too close for comfort to one.
Nine members and four leaders of Troop 38 were evacuated June 19 from the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch in Huerfano, County, Colo., because of the East Peak wildfire.
Scott and Luke Blochlinger, Tryston Jochems, Rope Dorman, Russell Dethloff, Jesse Copple, Cutter Rhudolph, Corey Anderson, and Braden Brownell, along with leaders Les Dethloff, Larry Brownell, Melissa Anderson, and Jay Rudolph are all now home safe and sound.
The scout group left Concordia early Saturday, June 15, to make the 15-hour drive to the scout ranch in southern Colorado. One of the troop leaders, Les Dethloff, said the boys had been fundraising and planning for a year to attend the weeklong camp.
On Wednesday, June 19, Dethloff said the boys were walking to dinner when they saw smoke in the distance. Then, he said, the wind picked up and the fire began to spread rapidly. Sirens sounded, and Dethloff said the 200 scouts and leaders began to evacuate as quickly as possible.
"It came up that fast," he said. "The wind was blowing probably about 40 or 50 miles an hour, and the fire just started jumping.
"We had enough time to load up and leave."
Scott Blochlinger said he and his fellow scouts saw smoke as they were on their way to the flag ceremony before dinner. It wasn't long after that before the camp sirens sounded as a warning to evacuate.
"There was ash all around us and we could see walls of flames shooting above the trees," Scott said. "You could definitely feel the heat after the sirens went off."
Scott's younger brother, Luke, said he could see waves of smoke coming over the camp as they loaded into vehicles to evacuate.
"I was kind of scared and just thinking that I really wanted to get out of there," Luke said.
The Blochlinger boys' mother, Jamie LeDuc, said she was very concerned when she received word that the scouts were that close to the wildfire. She received a call from Brownell's wife letting her know that everyone had been evacuated safely.
"I felt better knowing they were with the leaders," she said. "The leaders and scout master did a great job of making sure we were all informed. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to take care of my kids."
The scouts were safely transported to Walsenburg, Colo., about 17 miles from the camp. They spent the night at the local high school, which had been set up as an emergency shelter by the Red Cross.
As of Wednesday, the fire was still burning, but was 70 percent contained. It has burned more than 13,000 acres, and destroyed 12 homes, as well as the boy scout camp. According to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the cause of the wildfire appears to have been a lightning strike from a thunderstorm.
"They told us Thursday night (June 20) that everything was gone," Dethloff said.
He said he is still waiting to hear if anything may be salvageable from the camp, but it's unlikely. Gone are a trailer the scouts used to haul their gear, as well as everything in their possession.
"The only thing we came away with was the clothes on our backs," he said.
Dethloff estimated that it would take $25,000 to replace all their equipment and personal possessions. He said he has been working with the local American Legion to raise funds. Last Saturday, the American Legion Riders raised almost $600 for the scouts.
Anyone wanting to make a donation to the scouts to assist in the replacement of their gear can contact Dethloff, or make a donation to an account set up at United Bank and Trust.
After a scheduled trip to do some white water rafting last Thursday, the scout group returned to Concordia on Friday afternoon.
"It was pretty intense there for a while," Dethloff said of the close encounter. "But I think we fared pretty well."