First came fire, then mudslides


Ireta McCracken holds the book Fire in the Sky, which shows a picture of her standing in front of her Vallecito home after debris flow nearly destroyed her home in 2002. Flames from the Missionary Ridge Fire came within feet of her home. Cabins and homes above her house were burned to the ground. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Ireta McCracken holds the book Fire in the Sky, which shows a picture of her standing in front of her Vallecito home after debris flow nearly destroyed her home in 2002. Flames from the Missionary Ridge Fire came within feet of her home. Cabins and homes above her house were burned to the ground.

The 10th anniversary of the Missionary Ridge Fire has given Vallecito resident Ireta McCracken some time for reflection.

“I thought it would never look nice again,” McCracken said of the place where she’s lived since 1986. “But it’s coming back.”

Firefighters used protective foam to save the 800-square-foot cabin that McCracken modernized with indoor plumbing and other amenities.

Nevertheless, McCracken, who was secretary to water attorney Sam Maynes for 15 years, spent three weeks away from home when the fire swept through the community.

Then came the rain.

“The trees above me didn’t hold, so the whole hillside came through my back door, continued through the living room and out the front door,” McCracken said. “I had eight inches of black, smoky mud in the house.”

The force of the moving muck tore out trees, her garden and lilacs that McCracken had saved from her grandmother’s house in Mancos.

Personal items and garden tools were carried across County Road 501 and into the lake.

“I never saw some of my things again,” McCracken said. “Some of them are probably at the bottom of the lake.”

One of McCracken’s four sons used a truck vacuum to suck mud from the house. Insurance paid for later cleanup.

“There’s a lot of green now because the hillside is growing back,” McCracken said. “This is home.”

daler@durangoherald.com