COLORADO SPRINGS — "Within minutes the fire was right on top of us. We shut down the pumps and raced to get out of there. We could smell the smoke and see the flames coming closer and closer."
That was how Pat Pottger, a clerk at Farm Crest/First Stop on the west side of Colorado Springs, described his harrowing escape from the Waldo Canyon Fire to O & A Marketing News.
"I was one of the last ones to evacuate. It was especially scary because I not only had to evacuate the store, but also my house. I live right across the street from where I work." With a "freaked cat" in the back seat and all the belongings he could stuff inside his vehicle, the going was treacherous. The roads were clogged as panicked residents and their pets fled with no destination in mind except to get out of there.
The worst fire in Colorado history claimed two lives, destroyed 346 houses and eighteen thousand acres, forced evacuation of 32,000 people, and brought big financial losses to some of the area's gasoline retailers in the path of the blaze. Fortunately, there were no reports of convenience stores actually burning. Pottger, whose store was closest to the blaze, said the fire stopped 200 yards from his store.
But retailers in El Paso and Teller, the two counties that were under constant threat, told O & A having to shut down their businesses in the height of the tourist season caused a major blow.
Pottger's store closed on the Saturday the fire broke out and didn't reopen for ten days after that. But the company threw its support behind its employees. "The management was awesome," said Pottger. "They paid us for Sunday and offered us the chance to work at their other stores or to work overtime once we were back in business."
Waldo Canyon, where the fire started, is just northwest of Manitou Springs, the rustic Colorado town where tourists congregate in the summer before heading up the pass to the mountains. Towns and tourist attractions all along the pass were evacuated because of the erratic nature of the fire, which not only spread north and west, but at times doubled back on itself, veering southwest. Highway 24 leading to the mountains was closed for over a week as firefighters worked franctically to contain the fire.
Businesses in Manitou weren't shut down long but because the highway to the mountains remained closed, "We were dead for over a week," said 7-Eleven clerk Shaun Foley. Even residents in nearby Colorado Springs avoided the area, unsure if the danger was past.
Foley, who has worked for 7-Eleven for eleven years, said on the 2:00 to 10:00 p.m. shift he works he normally sees 300-plus customers. "In the whole week after the fire started there were only a 160 in that time period.
"Just today business started picking up." He was hoping for a good Fourth of July.
So are the gasoline retailers who operate up the pass.
At first, business was booming as residents anticipating evacuation filled up so they could make a quick getaway. A Loaf 'N Jug and Centex station anticipated the rush and had fuel trucks lumber up highway 67 from Denver to fill the pumps on Sunday, a day after the fire started. Some of the other gasoline retailers sold so much they ran out, posting signs "Only diesel available." But, after the first crush, those who had gasoline had to sit on it. Officials had closed the highway, choking off all traffic from the east.
Fear grew that the fast moving fire would move up the pass. At one point it was only a mile and a half away from Rampart Reservoir.
The towns of Cascade, Green Mountain Falls, Chipita Park and some southern and eastern parts of Woodland Park went under mandatory evacuation.
"The city shut us down Wednesday," said Julie Cherringer, district manager for Western Convenience Stores, whose Woodland Park store was in the evacuation zone for Teller County. The order wasn't lifted until the following Tuesday. "We opened up right away. We lost a lot of tourism businesss, but the tanker truck is filling us up right now. We're fully staffed and ready to go.
"We're hopeful the holiday will bring people back. And I expect we'll get a lot of lookyloos."
Robert Phillips is a clerk at the Loaf 'N Jug in Woodland Park. His store was in the pre-evacuation zone but the city closed it down Wednesday too. He didn't get back to work until the following Wednesday. He couldn't tell what the losses were, but said during his shift the store normally serves 500 to 600 customers a day during the week and a thousand during the weekend. "Today so far I've only seen a hundred."
On a personal level he wasn't scared. He has a military background and has been through a fire in the past. "But it was pretty bad to lose those hours. It's hard enough to pay bills on my paycheck. When you lose that much time it's even harder."
And that day they were still on pre-evacuation orders, warned to be ready if the fire shifted again.
Two local car washes in Woodland Park remained open through it all. And Dan Taylor, owner of the Red Baron and Grace Avenue washes, said he only lost half his business.
"Oddly enough people still wanted their vehicles washed."
He only lost one employee to evacuation, but he only has one employee, and was able to man the business himself.
A car wash in Colorado Springs chipped in to help fire victims. The Quick Quack Car Wash, just outside the evacuation zone on Austin Bluffs Parkway, offered free car washes for a donation to the Red Cross.
Some houses left standing during the fire were burglarized, then trashed, but none of the gasoline retailer staff interviewed said their stores were looted or vandalized during the shutdown.
"The only problem we had was the power was off for about ten minutes today, but the pumps are full and business is good," said Pottger.
AURORA —7-Eleven has opened five new stores in this city in the last 18 months, increasing its locations to 30.
The chain also plans to increase by another 30 percent.
Officials said they see great potential there based on the density of the population.
FIRESTONE — A public compressed natural gas fueling station for vehicles that operate on CNG opened here recently, the first of four planned for the area.
Mansfield Energy's SkyBlu CNG station is located at a Shell station just off Interstate 25 and Colorado Highway 119. The opening was given royal treatment with a ribbon cutting, speeches and fueling demonstrations.
"This is a milestone for the Weld County Natural Gas Coalition," said Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer. She said the station is a step toward creating an alternative fuel corridor between Colorado and Wyoming.
LITTLETON — A convenience store owner here fears the start of a dangerous trend: robbers who don't just want the cash, but want to loot the entire store and who will kill to gain the time.
A clerk at his Neighborhood Food and Gas store was ready to hand over the money from the register but the robbers stabbed him in the heart to put him out of commission and started to haul away the stock. But they didn't count on the clerk fighting back.
He managed to bash one of the robbers with a hammer before collapsing. Both men were taken to the hospital. Police are looking for the other robber.
The clerk, son of the owner, underwent emergency surgery and is expected to recover.
But the store owner, who wants to remain anonymous, said if harming the employees to loot the store turns into a trend, the workers have no way to protect themselves. "Before it was just give up the money and let them go," said the merchant. "But this — this is the worst of the worst."
COLORADO SPRINGS — She might have gotten away with stealing the rental car if she hadn't made a quick stop at a convenience store to make a purchase.
Employees of a car rental business reported a vehicle stolen from their lot at 3:20 p.m. A short time later police spotted the vehicle in the parking lot of a nearby convenience store and arrested 32-year-old Candida Latch in the store.
It was not known what kind of craving made Latch dart into the store, but they do have those wonderful snacks.
DENVER — The woman who bit two people in the neck at a convenience store has been sentenced to thirty days in jail and sixty days of home detention.
Emi Coleman had pleaded guilty to third-degree assault. She also was ordered to undergo drug and alcohol and mental health treatment and to take an anger management course.
She walked into a convenience store where she groped a male customer before biting him on the neck. Then she bit the store clerk on the neck.
LAKEWOOD — One of the few remaining buildings that housed Big Top Auto Marts, pioneers in the convenience store industry, has been saved from demolition.
Bill Myslik bought the orange and white building with its swooping circus tent roof four years ago for his snow removal business without any idea of the history behind it. His wife thought it so ugly she had him paint it beige. Now his business has outgrown it and he was prepared to demolish it so he could build a bigger place.
Then he was approached by worried experts from the city and State Historical Fund who told him about the legendary history.
Big Top Auto Marts once dotted main drags in the Denver area and were one of the first gas stations to offer self service pumps, a radical change for those who enjoyed sitting back and having the attendant fill up. The stations also offered downtown workers the chance to pick up a loaf of bread or a carton of milk before heading home.
At one time 15 such mini-marts were in the area. Most are gone now, but Myslik listened to the historians. He has shelved plans to bring in the wrecking ball and will put the place up for sale instead. He believes it would suit some small business just fine.
And thus at least one piece of the gasoline retail past will be around for a while to remindÊmotorists of the good old days.
COLORADO SPRINGS — The first Kum & Go convenience store has opened its doors here, the first of 20 to 25 to be built over a five-year period.
The 5,000 square-foot store is situated on a 1.5 acre site on the northeast side of the city.
There are 10 pumping stations with more room than the average. Some of the food sold inside is made inside.
The employees all sport crisp white shirts, ties, khaki pants and name tags and greet customers as they enter the store.
"We're not going to be like a stereotypical convenience store," said CEO Kyle Krause.
AURORA — A convenience store clerk is aware now that he is lucky to be alive after hesitating to hand over the money to a robber. He was shot.
"I was looking at the gun thinking, 'Is this real?' said Paymon Ghamari who was clerking at his father's store. The delay was enough to prompt the robber to shoot.
"It hit me like a hammer," Ghamari said, although he was able to open the cash drawer and fish out the cash for the man who fled with a cohort and is still being sought.
Fortunately the bullet only penetrated his bicep, missing both bone and artery.
Even after he was shot Ghamari didn't fully comprehend what had happened to him until "it starts bleeding and you're like, 'Damn there's a hole in my arm.'"
GRAND JUNCTION — For employees at the Splish Splash Car Wash it was almost like a movie in which they were playing a bit part.
Police went to a nearby Walmart to arrest Jerod Wade on drug-related warrants.
Wade and his girlfriend ditched their truck behind the car wash and took off on foot. He managed to get away. The girlfriend, Lacey Moss, ran right past Splish Splash employees. But, burdened with a backpack, she tripped and fell into a ditch behind the wash. Police were right behind her and snatched her up.
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of the O&A
Copyright 2012 by KAL Publications Inc.
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