Apr 152004
 
Authors: Christiana Nelson

The view from the Sanchezes’ window makes them sick.

“Every time we look outside he gets sick cause that was our

accident,” said Shelly Sanchez, 36. “It’s just been really

bad.”

Their front window frames a straight vertical line, which

separates charred black landscape from lush green grass.

For Shelly, life has been a blur since that line appeared, but

she said it all started out innocently.

On March 29, Shelly and her husband, Anthony Sanchez, 46, were

cleaning their yard in Poudre Canyon in preparation for the

impending fire season. After filling one Dumpster with brush, they

decided to make foot-high piles with the cut vegetation.

“We were burning the piles and everything was good: We had the

hose out, the rakes ready, we were well prepared and we had

everything pulled in so that (the fire) wouldn’t spread,” Shelly

said. “On the last pile the wind came up and it just went ‘whoosh’

and into the gully and started up the gully and took off.”

By the time Shelly ran back from calling 911, the blaze had

reached the fence line, becoming what was later known as the Picnic

Rock fire.

It would be another 15 minutes before the fire department

arrived, so Shelly took the right side and Anthony took the left

side and started fighting the fire with rakes, their feet and a

hose.

“We took every precaution, we were very careful, but when it

happened it just happened,” Shelly said. “There was nothing we

could do; we fought it as much as we could.”

The Sanchezes continued to fight the fire, until the fire

department arrived and Anthony collapsed from exhaustion, burning

his foot and hair and melting his shoe and shoelaces in the

blaze.

For the next few days, the Sanchezes were investigated by the

police and sat in their home watching their “terrible accident” out

their front window and on television.

“We both shook and cried for days and he threw up on top of all

of that for – well, he was still sick yesterday,” Shelly said.

“After a few days, I think Friday, we stopped watching, so Friday

and Saturday we didn’t watch the news at all, we just watched

cartoons.”

Still, cartoons couldn’t shield them from the harassment by

community members, who would sit outside their home and glare,

shout insults and names, and shine car lights or honk horns in the

middle of the night.

CSU faculty member Amy Satterfield’s home was threatened during

the fire, and while she has no ill will toward the Sanchezes, she

said she can understand why some people are upset.

“Some people are angry,” said Satterfield, a senior lecturer in

the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication. “It is

easier for me to be compassionate in that my home was not damaged,

nor was my view. If the view from your house is damaged that’d be a

big deal up there.”

While Shelly is concerned for her and her husband’s safety, she

said the people who gesture threateningly toward them do not wake

them up at night as they might hope.

“They’re not bothering us, we were up anyway,” Shelly said. “We

couldn’t sleep because when we did we’d have nightmares and the bed

would be a wreck because we’d be stomping out the fire, moving our

arms with the rake – it was horrible, those nightmares, we still

have them, but not as severe.”

Just as the Sanchezes’ nightmares did not end when the fire was

contained on April 7, the consequences of their actions still

remain.

Larimer County District Attorney Stuart VanMeveren has charged

the Anthony Sanchez with fourth-degree arson.

“We looked at the investigation that the sheriff put together

and from the facts we had, or had at that point, we looked at

various statues and it looked like fourth-degree arson fit the

best,” VanMeveren said.

Revised Colorado statue 18-4-105 states that fourth-degree arson

applies to a person who starts a fire on his or her own or someone

else’s property and consequently places a person or a building in

danger of damage.

Jason Mantas, a public education information specialist for

Poudre Fire Authority, said that not obtaining a burning permit in

an area where one is required and not paying attention to dry

conditions may both have contributed to the decision to press

charges.

“In a true sense they didn’t do everything they could have to

prevent it or it wouldn’t have spread and wouldn’t have started,”

Mantas said. “But being people that didn’t have any experience with

firefighting and knowledge of that area, they took reasonable

actions to make sure the fire didn’t get out of control.”

Despite the Sanchezes’ attempt to take precautions, Don

Griffith, emergency services coordinator for the Larimer County

Sheriff’s Office, said this signals the beginning of a “very, very

active fire year”.

“A lot of people don’t really understand fire,” Griffith said.

“They think that flames have to have contact with something to

ignite it, but embers flying off a campfire are enough to start a

significant fire with dry conditions.”

In coordination with dry conditions, the Picnic Rock fire

destroyed one home, classifying it as a class-two misdemeanor

punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and up to a $1,000

fine.

Anthony Sanchez is scheduled to appear in court at 10 a.m. on

June 10.

“We feel guilty enough that we had the accident, that’s why we

didn’t get a lawyer, we won’t, because it was our accident and we

need to just take the consequences,” Shelly said.

The Sanchezes’ cooperation and accountability since the fire’s

outset is admirable, Satterfield said.

“I don’t think a lot of people feel animosity toward them,”

Satterfield said. “People appreciate very much that Mr. Sanchez has

been gracious enough to take the blame, a lot of people aren’t big

enough to do that.”

Shelly said she and her husband will continue to take full

responsibility for the fire and hope that people will realize that

the fire was inadvertent.

“I understand people are upset, I really do, but it was an

accident and we did everything we could to prevent it and to stop

it,” Shelly said. “Accidents happen to everybody. One of these days

an accident will happen to someone who least expects it and then

they’ll realize it was all just an accident.”

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