High Park Fire survivor’s pie nets $1,000 at benefit auction

KRISTEN BROWNING-BLAS/The Denver Post
Jon Stephens paid $1,000 for a rhubarb pie after posting the highest bid at the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department auction last weekend in the foothills community west of Fort Collins. Enlarge photo

KRISTEN BROWNING-BLAS/The Denver Post Jon Stephens paid $1,000 for a rhubarb pie after posting the highest bid at the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department auction last weekend in the foothills community west of Fort Collins.

RIST CANYON (AP) – When is a pie worth $1,000?

When it’s sold at a fundraiser for the all-volunteer fire department that fought the High Park Fire for three weeks in June.

Eight of the firefighters lost their homes in the blaze that charred 87,284 acres and burned 259 homes. Larry Monesson is one of those firefighters.

When Monesson and his wife, Barb, returned to their Whale Rock home, all that was left of their 35-year-old house, cabin and carpentry workshop were pieces of Larry’s charred woodcarvings and “these little brown nubbins coming up,” Barb Monesson said. “It was a moonscape.”

They carried bottled water to the tender shoots, encouraged to see signs of life struggling up through the scorched earth. By last week, the rhubarb plant that a neighbor had given them 30 years ago had shot up enough stalks to make a pie.

That’s when Larry Monesson and Gene Michaud, one of the organizers of the Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department’s annual festival, hatched a plan: Barb would make a pie, and they would sell it during the Richard Schmid Fine Art Auction, the department’s largest fundraiser.

“I tell you, since the fire, I forgot how to cook. I didn’t even remember how to make pie dough,” Barb Monesson said.

She couldn’t look up the recipe: Her mother’s 1947 copy of The American Women’s Cookbook was burned in the fire, along with her rolling pin, pie plates and oven.

She managed to pull together flour, butter, Crisco and ice water into a crust, and filled it with the chopped rhubarb.

“During the auction, it went through my mind, ‘Did I add the sugar?’” Monesson said.

The auction grossed $173,000, and the fire department – which collects no taxes – usually retains 40 percent, after the artists get their cut. This year, many of the artists contributed 100 percent of sales.

“Last year, we netted $40,000 – this year we’re going to have a lot more than that,” said Wes Rutt, firefighter and auction director.

As paintings sold for $500 to $33,000, the auctioneer introduced a three-dimensional piece.

“Barb’s pie was a work of art,” Rutt said.

After some fierce bidding, Stove Prairie resident Jon Stephens emerged victorious, although he said never intended to bid on a baked good.

“I didn’t even know there was going to be a pie,” said Stephens, a retired firefighter. “That thousand dollars represents the spirit of our community.”