Tess Vigeland: The wildfires in Colorado are now so vast and intense officials can no longer estimate how much damage has been done. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, including those at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The Waldo Canyon fire and the High Park fire have burned hundreds of homes to the ground.
And as of yesterday, the Flying W Ranch is also gone. The Western-themed resort has been around for more than 50 years. It provided authentic cowboy food and entertainment to 1,200 people on any given night. Aaron Winter is an employee at the Flying W. We caught him on his cell phone in Colorado Springs. Welcome to the program.
Winter: It’s good to be here.
Vigeland: Tell us what happened.
Winter: Well, you know, unfortunately there was a fire that started back on Saturday, but yesterday the fire had actually broken through Queens Canyon, came up the mountain ridge directly behind us and ignited the entire mountaintop. And within I’d say about five minutes, it had actually engulfed the entire side of the mountain — traveling down at least 60 miles per hour towards the Flying W as well as the surrounding community of Mountain Shadows.
Vigeland: Let’s talk about the history of the Flying W. Tell us about Marian and Russ Wolfe, the founders.
Winter: Marian and Russ actually started the Flying W back in 1953. They would actually cook all the food out in their backyard. Marian was always the cook, she was a wonderful lady. Unfortunately she did pass way in 1999. But her husband, Russ, is still alive today. And we actually got him evacuated just yesterday as well. We’re hoping that his house is still standing, but we’re not entirely sure.
Vigeland: How do you deal with something like this as a business? I mean, obviously you had insurance. You knew this was a possibility of happening just by where you were. But recovery has got to be just a really long process now as you look into the future.
Winter: It does. We can only go one step at a time. Thankfully also on Saturday we managed to get out a lot of the antiquities that were in a lot of our shops and our buildings. So the plan is if we can rebuild, we’ll go ahead and return all that stuff back to the Flying W. It obviously won’t be the same. But we’ll still have the same staff, we’ll still have the same wranglers, we’ll still have some of the original stuff in the Flying W.
Vigeland: How long have you worked there?
Winter: I’ve been there for 15 years now. I actually started in May of 1997.
Vigeland: What does the place mean to you?
Winter: It means the world to me. When it was burning we were all basically hugging each other, tears streaming down our face. Our biggest concern is obviously to the homes that are located around us and to those people that have lost everything they’ve gathered over the years. We just want to send out our love to them. We know that everybody cares about the Flying W, but they’re also highly important to us.
Vigeland: Aaron Winter is director of sales and marketing at the Flying W Ranch in Colorado. Thank you so much for joining us and best of luck to you.
Winter: Well thank you and thanks for calling us.
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