Burnt Land

Backcountry scorched by the Lake Christine Fire, a few hundred yards from the gun range where the fire ignited, is pictured.

A midvalley businessman has set a fundraising goal of $200,000 to assist victims of the Lake Christine Fire, and to achieve the estimable target, John Hembel is going to need a lot of community support — and relatively quickly.

The Neighbors Helping Neighbors fund-raiser, a block party on a section of the 100 block of Southside Drive, is set for Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. With a little over two weeks to go, Hembel needs donated items for silent and live auctions, a caterer, and a DJ or a live band. Besides organizing the event, he’s putting up his custom-built, 1200cc Softtail Harley motorcycle, valued at around $30,000, for auction.

“I would love to see $200,000, but I don’t know if that’s realistic,” said Hembel, who owns Clear-Vu Window Tinting. “I’m short on time because it took so long to get town approval. We’re at crunch time, and I could use helping hands to gather donations.”

Donations should be in the form of big-ticket items that are appropriate for auctions, such as vehicles in good condition, artwork, electronics, vacation getaways with hotel stays, sporting goods and the like. Hembel said the event will be family friendly.

United Way of Battlement to the Bells, based in Glenwood Springs, is co-organizing the event. Executive director Traci Gurley-Tomashosky said the nonprofit will distribute proceeds to families and individuals directly affected by the fire. Some of the funds will go to United Way partner agencies that are assisting fire victims. Donations will be tax-deductible.

The Lake Christine Fire scarred over 12,000 acres of midvalley land and destroyed three houses, displacing two families in El Jebel and one family in Missouri Heights. Aside from those who lost their homes, there are other families who lost many possessions or face costly house repairs due to smoke damage.

“These families have needed support, and the community has rallied around them,” Gurley-Tomashosky said. “John wants to help out as he can, and the United Way is proud to be a part of that and is looking forward to supporting the event.”

United Way has lined up a few volunteers from Americorps to assist on the day of the event, she said. Organizers aren’t seeking donations of food, water or clothing for fire victims, Gurley-Tomashosky added. In the weeks after the fire, emergency agencies such as the Red Cross received too many such items and had to turn most of it away.

Responding in such a big way to a catastrophic event is one of the Roaring Fork Valley’s positive traits, she said: “That’s just our community, and it makes you feel proud to be a part of it and that spirit of neighborliness.”

Hembel said he and his wife evacuated their house in Missouri Heights on the evening of July 4, the day after the fire started at the Basalt shooting range. They suffered no damages.

He said he originally thought of putting on an event to help a friend, Bill McCauley, who lost his El Jebel residence in the blaze on the night of July 4 after winds shifted and the blaze took a surprising turn to the west. But the more Hembel thought about it, the more he felt he should reach out to multiple fire victims.

“There are people beyond the three families who lost their homes who have been affected by this,” he said. “People suffered smoke damage and lost a few, or many, of their possessions. I know one person who lost basically everything in his home due to smoke damage, and his insurance company is fighting with him and doesn’t want to pay.”

Hembel said post-fire accounts like that “get under my skin and get me irritated.” That’s what inspired him to plan the block-party fundraiser.

“We hope to have a celebration of the community and the people of the Basalt area,” he said. The location of the party, on Southside Drive west of Highway 82, was chosen deliberately to help generate traffic for businesses in that area.

Hembel disclosed that his wife owns a business in the area, Encore Collection, which will benefit the fundraiser by providing parking spaces.

“We’re closing part of Southside Drive, and we’ll have tents and tables set up outside,” Hembel said. “All the food and drink will be free.” No alcoholic beverages will be provided or sold.

Hembel added that he doesn’t mind auctioning off the motorcycle, which has logged only 3,000 miles and is in excellent condition save for a few minor scratches.

“I’m not much of a rider,” he said. “It will be a good donation to try and generate some funds. It’s in top-notch condition, and anyone who takes it has nothing to worry about.”

Hembel can be reached at (970) 274-1797.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.

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