Published: Dec. 1, 2010 By

gold hill fire

The Fourmile Fire burned 169 homes and caused at least $217 million in insured losses. In terms of cost and property loss, it is the most destructive fire in the history of Colorado. No lives were lost.

Dinner at the Gold Hill Inn is always a special occasion, but no visit to the inn was more special than the one my partner Sue and I made Sept. 23.

For one thing, the inn was still there. For another, the town of Gold Hill was still there. And most important, scores of dear friends were still alive.

Two weeks earlier Gold Hill had a near-death experience and a near-miraculous salvation.

On Labor Day, a fire broke out in Fourmile Canyon a couple miles west of Boulder. Driven by fierce winds, it quickly turned into a near-perfect firestorm.

During the crucial first hours the winds were too strong for slurry bombers to fly, and the fire had its way with the woods. By Tuesday the situation was desperate. The fire had swept east and jumped from Fourmile Canyon to Sunshine Canyon where it destroyed dozens of homes along a three-mile stretch of road from Bald Mountain to the Snowbound Mine — and north up the steep, tinderbox dry slope toward Gold Hill. The Colorado Mountain Ranch — née the Trojan Ranch — a quarter mile west of Gold Hill was burning. Fortunately the main lodge survived. The fire had topped the last ridge and was bearing down on Gold Hill from the south. With three of the four roads out of town cut off by flames, Gold Hill and the dozens of firefighters trying to save it were in grave danger.

And with flames blistering the paint on the back doors of homes on the south side of town, Gold Hill fire chief Chris Finn (whose day job is chef at the family-owned Gold Hill Inn) was about to give the order to evacuate the 20 fire engines strung out along Main Street.

And then God, the government or the luck of the Irish (or maybe all three) intervened. The wind, which had been blowing the fire toward town, suddenly shifted. And seemingly out of nowhere, a big, four-engine slurry bomber swooped down and dropped a line of slurry along the leading edge of the flames. The locals said it was like a scene out of a movie.

Gold Hill was saved. It was enough to turn an atheist into an agnostic.

On Sept. 23 the inn reopened. It had been scrubbed clean of smoke and ash by the wait staff, which volunteered its time the previous weekend. The air was clear, the drinks generous, the staff gracious and the duck excellent. Except for the single topic of conversation — and the drive through mile after mile of scorched earth to get there — you never would have known anything unusual had happened.

Living well really is the best revenge.

Paul Danish (Hist’65) has had a 48-year love affair with the town of Gold Hill and its people.

Photo Courtesy Greg Cortopassi