Living in evacuation limbo: Lyons residents share fears of unknown as CalWood Fire burns nearby

:From left: David and Chrystal Decoster are interviewed in their antique store, Western Stars Gallery, on Oct. 20, 2020. Residents of Lyons have been living under a pre-evacuation order since the start of the CalWood Fire on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
:From left: David and Chrystal Decoster are interviewed in their antique store, Western Stars Gallery, on Oct. 20, 2020. Residents of Lyons have been living under a pre-evacuation order since the start of the CalWood Fire on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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When Chrystal Decoster stepped out of her car around 9 a.m. Tuesday morning outside her art gallery in Lyons, it took her a second to realize that the fine, powdery substance falling from the sky wasn’t snow.

“I went, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s sn … no, can’t be that lucky. It’s ash,’” Decoster said.

The CalWood Fire, which was reported Saturday afternoon near the Cal-Wood Education Center in Jamestown, has become the county’s largest wildfire in history. As of Tuesday, the fire had burned 9,365 acres and was 17% contained. On Sunday, a second wildfire started in Lefthand Canyon and has since grown to 470 acres.

The fires prompted evacuation orders across a large swath of the county, but Lyons residents since Saturday have been on evacuation warning, meaning that residents don’t have to evacuate but should be prepared to leave at a “moment’s notice,” according to a town issued fire update posted on Lyons’ website Monday. The town’s schools have canceled in -person classes through Wednesday.

Victoria Simonsen, town administrator, said that Lyons officials have been in regular contact with the Boulder Office of Emergency Management and the Lyons Fire Protection District, which is helping to battle the fire.

“Although they have some of the CalWood fire contained on the eastern edge, it is still an active wildfire and Lyons is not out of the woods yet,” she said. “We need to remain vigilant and be ready to go, if the conditions change.”

Simonsen said that there is still active fire burning within a mile of Lyons. She said all residents should put their information into the town emergency contact system so that their cell number is available, should the evacuation status change. To sign up, visit: member.everbridge.net/index/453003085612231#/login.

This isn’t the first time the town has dealt with a natural disaster. In 2013, a 1,000-year flood that hit Boulder County left the town with roughly $50 million in damages. Residents, though, said this situation feels different.

With it’s looming presence, the fire seems scarier than the flood to Chrystal and David Decoster. The couple, who moved to Lyons in 2010, noted that their home is on a hillside and wasn’t damaged in 2013.

With a desire to help local artists who lost their homes and studios following the flood, Chrystal Decoster helped to open Western Stars Gallery, 160 E. Main St. At the gallery, roughly 240 artists sell their wares. On Tuesday, Chrystal Decoster said she would be working to get in touch with the artists to give them an update on the situation.

For the husband and wife, it’s the waiting and continuous feeling of being in limbo that is most stressful, as the fire continues to burn. David Decoster said the glow of the fire and flames on the hill sides have been visible from town and he estimated that it’s burning about three miles from their home.

“It’s not unlike the flood, because it’s a natural disaster that affects everybody, but in ways, it’s completely the opposite,” David Decoster said. “(The flood) was a sudden thing that happened. Whereas this, right now, we are not knowing what’s going to happen. Every day is a waiting game.”

Chrystal Decoster added: “This is tangible. You can smell it. You can taste it.”

The Decosters said they’ve packed some belongings and have made plans to go to Niwot to stay with a friend, if they’re evacuated.

“Yesterday was a white-knuckle day,” Decoster said. “We hunkered down and got art and things that we love and found different places to keep them safe and loaded our cars. We’ve been living out of suitcases.”

Other Lyons residents have also been in preparation mode.

David Jones and Karyn Spence sit at a table outside the Barking Dog Cafe on Oct. 20, 2020. Residents of Lyons have been living under a pre-evacuation order since the start of the CalWood Fire on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Under an early morning sky, hazy with wildfire smoke, Karyn Spence and David Jones, husband and wife, sipped coffee Tuesday at table outside the Barking Dog Cafe, 431 W. Main St. The couple has lived in Lyons for 25 years. Like the Decosters, they said their home, too, was spared by the 2013 flood.

Having survived the flood, they said they have confidence in the town’s response to disasters. The couple commended the town’s network of communications, including information posted on social media by the Lyons fire department.

“Lyons as a community learned a lot from the flood: how to communicate and how to stick together,” Spence said. “The fire is scarier for me. I’m a little more nervous than during the flood.”

David said that’s because, “A flood tends to stay in the river, you know?”

As soon as they found out that the town was under an evacuation warning, Spence and Jones packed their bags and made a plan for how they would best transport their 26 chickens and four baby chicks.

Drinking an Americano nearby was Robbie Mandel, a Lyons resident of five years.

“A lot of people left at night (Saturday),” Mandel said, approximating that about five of his neighbors left.

Mandel is wood shop worker and owns Ancient Futures Design & Woodworking in Lyons. Like his fellow residents, he said he’s prepared to evacuate. By 3 p.m. Saturday, he said, he had packed up a number of his tools; pictures; a brand-new pair of Carhartt pants, which cost $52; and some other precious belongings.

“Fires, floods, I guess what’s next?” Mandell said.

People can continue to check the status of county evacuations and growth of the fire online at the Boulder Emergency Operations Center Public Information Map at: https://tinyurl.com/calwood-lefthand-map.

Robbie Mandel stands outside the Barking Dog Cafe on Oct. 20, 2020. Residents of Lyons have been living under a pre-evacuation order since the start of the CalWood Fire on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)