Ranchers, horses flee path of Williams Fork Fire
On Friday night, 15 horses at the Timberline Ministries Ranch stood just miles from the Williams Fork Fire.
The fire in southern Grand County grew from just a few acres to more than 1,300 in about eight hours, and it had been moving northeast all day — toward the ranch and the horses.
Ranch Manger Jonathan Kuster was picking up hay in Yampa, where he didn’t have much cell phone service, when a message finally got through to him, saying a fire had broken out nearby. It was soon clear the ranch would need to be evacuated and Kuster rushed back.
“When I came over the hill on the north side of Kremmling, I could see the flames from the fire,” he said. “That was just an eerie feeling to be driving into that. At that point I was like, is the ranch already on fire? Am I too late?”
Kuster wasn’t too late, and it was decided that moving the 15 horses boarded at the ranch away from the fire would be for the best. Working with county officials and Tish Linke of the Flying Heels Rodeo, a plan was put in place to relocate the horses to the Granby fairgrounds.
The Timberline herd is a fairly permanent group of horses, with some having stayed solely at this ranch for more than five years. A few owners of boarded horses were also out of town, so word went out that they would need extra hands and trailers to move the herd.
“When I pulled into the ranch yard, there were 20 or 30 people. I didn’t even know who some of them were,” Kuster said. “It was pretty cool to see these trucks and trailers lined up in my yard ready to help.”
The group quickly went to action evacuating the 15 horses. Kuster said they didn’t account for the early darkness caused by the smoke, which only added to the challenge.
Even so, 11 of the horses made it to the Flying Heels location before midnight. With the horses stressed by all the commotion and some not used to trailering, the ranch decided to wait on relocating four horses until daybreak.
Dan Real, who boards two of his horses at Timberline’s ranch, helped with the evacuation. He lives in Granby and is keeping an eye on the now fully relocated herd.
“The horses are safe and sound and in good shape,” Real said. “We clearly have some concern for all the folks in the potential path of the fire.”
Kuster’s group went back to the ranch this morning to build berms with the hope of protecting the hay supply. The ranch is as prepared as it can be as the fire burns and responders combat it.
“Now, we’re done and I’m just watching the smoke get closer and closer,” he said over the phone Saturday. “What if this place burns down? What then? Now the fear, I guess, is starting to set in. This could be our reality here in a few hours.”
While Timberline took over the ranch operations last year, the ministry also hosts a bible school and retreat center that would usually have summer groups. Because of COVID-19, that hasn’t been the case this year.
Kuster said the silver lining is in the fact that the evacuation was mostly horses, rather than busloads of campers. He called it a blessing that so few people are around on property as this wildfire grows.
“For the first time in 25 years, we’re not having camps, and for the first time in 25 years we possibly have a wildfire coming through the property,” Kuster explained. “It’s an interesting nuance there.”
The fire has grown to an estimated 4,145 acres as of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, according to the most recent flight maps.
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