Carvings a memory of a hard time

A tree carving of firefighter Alan Wayne Wyatt, killed during the Missionary Ridge Fire, is one of 12 wood carvings done in fire-burned snags at Vallecito Reservoir. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

A tree carving of firefighter Alan Wayne Wyatt, killed during the Missionary Ridge Fire, is one of 12 wood carvings done in fire-burned snags at Vallecito Reservoir.

A life-size figure of Alan Wayne Wyatt, the logger killed by a falling tree during the Missionary Ridge Fire, is probably the best-known tree carving at Vallecito Reservoir.

But it’s only one of a dozen such carvings that Pagosa Springs sculptor Chad Haspels did in the eight months after the fire.

“I was happy to do them,” Haspels said. “It was a meaningful effort because Vallecito residents were distraught and businesses were struggling.”

Donations raised by Jay Powell, Ken Carpenter and the late Dennis McGinnis paid expenses for Haspels and materials for the concrete bases for the carvings.

Carpenter asked him to carve the images after seeing some of his work in Dolores, where Haspels worked in the summer for the U.S. Forest Service.

All carvings were done in ponderosa pine snags from burned trees.

The carving of Wyatt still has roots in the ground. Its root system eventually will rot unless sap maintains its integrity, Haspels said.

Others represent a bear; firefighters in various poses, carrying a shovel, a chain saw or looking at a slurry bomber; a baby raccoon that had been rescued; a sheriff’s deputy; and an emergency medical technician.

Each base has a plaque bearing the name of an individual or a business that sponsored it.

Haspels has a degree from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont. He has worked in stone, clay and bronze but now likes wood because it’s organic.

“Wood is a challenge because a bad cut means a piece can be lost forever,” Haspels said. “It forces me to think about what I’m going to do before I do it.”

daler@durangoherald.com