CUCHARA, Colo. — A wildfire’s wrath is felt long after the flames are extinguished.
Immediately upon their return, people in Cuchara cleaned ash off their homes and cars while restaurants ordered new food.
A year later, the scar left from the fire is unable to hold rainfall, causing flooding concerns for areas like La Veta and Walsenberg.
Flooding can last for years after a fire.
The town of Cuchara sits well above the flood plain, but stares down a similar time table to recovery.
“It’s going to be a three or four year project, just to get everyone whole again,” said Edward Matthes, the owner of Cuchara Cabin and Condo Rental.
Cuchara walks a fine line between a tourist destination and secluded mountain town.
“Cuchara is the last undiscovered place in Colorado,” Matthes said.
But, as a business owner, he understands the need for people to come in, now more than ever.
After donations, help from family and a last-minute rush of tourists spurred by a plea for Colorado to come to town and spend some money, Matthes said he limited losses to around $43,000.
“You close us for a whole month, that’s a third of our year and essentially a third of our income,” Matthes said.
The Fourth of July is one of the times he looks forward to as a business owner.
“This is actually our biggest week of the year,” Matthes said. “We have 50 year-round residents. We bring in about 2,000 people into this town for the Fourth of July parade.”
As it stands now, Matthes has about a third of his beds filled during a week he is typically sold out. He’s one of the smaller places in town, but still estimates about a 50 percent capacity with the holiday just two days away.
“It is a little bit slower this year,” Matthes said. “I think there are some fears, people are afraid it might not be as pretty as it once was. Honestly, I think it’s prettier.”
Chalk that up to the heavy snow year, he said. He recalls one thunderstorm helping quell the fire.
“It has not stopped raining and snowing since the fire,” Matthes said. “It got within three-quarters of a mile from the village and Fourth of July it started raining, the wind shifted, and they were able to get a handle on everything.”
Last year, the parade was just a handful of firefighters, carrying a teddy bear that was left behind in the evacuations.
When the few people who call Cuchara home left in evacuations, they didn’t know if they would ever be able to come back.
This year, they’re thankful to be back, and hope more people come to visit to make it feel like home again.
“Most of the appeal is that this area is kind of a secret, that nobody’s figured us out, but at the same time as business owners, you need to find that balance,” Matthes said.