Local Scouts return home after escaping Colorado wildfires

Troup 369 Boy Scouts Clay, 10, Noah, 14, and their father Mike Brown return from Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch in Colorado. The ranch was near the recent large wildfire. Herb Nygren Jr./Staff

Families of the East Texas Boy Scouts Troop 369 were reunited with loved ones Friday morning after the group fled from wildfires during a summer camp in Colorado.

"We just held on to each other, didn't want to let him (husband) go. It was finally over," Anna Brown, wife of Scout Leader Mike Brown, said. "It was a very happy time to have them back in my arms safely."

Mrs. Brown had been waiting for her husband and two children, who escaped the wildfires on Wednesday, to come back home.

Troop 369 participated in the annual June summer camp for the Boy Scouts of America, which took place for the first time at the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch, 17 miles southwest of Walsenburg, Colo.

Days before the departure to the summer camp on June 14, the leaders of the troop were aware of wildfires spreading through parts of Colorado's forest. That day, 41 Scouts and five Scout leaders left Tyler and arrived at the ranch on Sunday.

"It was normal camp, everything was fine," said Brown, who shortly after arriving left with four other members of the troop, including his oldest son and one forest guide, for a four-day, 40-mile hike and survival training in nearby mountains.

Little did they know their return back to the camp that Wednesday evening would become real-life survival.

As the group walked back down the mountain, they noticed smoke covering the skies between a field and their camp.

The wildfires had completely cut off their path.

"That is when we tried to contact camp and get everyone evacuated. … We just told the kids, ‘Get ready, we might have to drop the backpacks and just go up wind to get away from it,'" Brown said. "But we had enough distance between us to move up wind and stay above it."

Meanwhile, the troops at the campground were in the process of evacuating to a Red Cross Shelter at Walsenburg High School, but because Tyler Troop 369 took charter buses to the ranch, they had no transportation to evacuate.

The group separated into different vehicles of other troops and, in one instance, 30 Scouts had no choice but to fit into one truck to escape.

"Although everyone was accounted for, the group was separated," Mrs. Brown said. "After one o'clock in the afternoon here, I finally got a phone call that everyone made it to the shelter."

Kendall Shuler, assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 369, was one of the first to get a call from the troops on Wednesday and immediately sent Chuck's Travel charter buses to rescue the group and bring them back to Tyler with their families.

"When we learned that they had evacuated, we set in motion their return back to Tyler," Shuler said.

After a long 737-mile drive from Walsenburg, Colo., the troop was reunited with their families.

"Everyone was there waiting on us, everyone was just smiling and waving at us," Brown said. "Glad to be home."

The troop will continue with its monthly summer camp training programs for the Scouts.

"This is a really good testimony about what Scouting is all about, which is being prepared, being able to take care of yourself and others when danger rises," Shuler said.

In the rush to flee for their lives, Scouts had to leave all gear, a leader's personal vehicle and personal camping equipment, which was presumed lost in the fire.

Between $15,000 and $20,000 of items have been reported as total loss, and the group is asking for donations. To help, contact the Pollard United Methodist Church, 3030 New Copeland Road, Tyler, or call the church at 903-597-2571.

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