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Buckets in hand, Morning Fresh Dairy workers fought High Park Fire themselves to save cows

4:25 PM, Jun 20, 2012   |    comments
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Lori Graves, left, co-owner of Morning Fesh Dairy, poses Tuesday with kids, Trevor, 18, Kelsey, 13, Allyx, 18, and Amber, 15, and employee, Kade Koster, 17, rear, at Morning Fresh Dairy in Bellvue. V. Richard Haro/The Coloradoan / V. Richard Haro/The Coloradoan

"It was really pretty overwhelming just to stand there and see it coming right at you," said Lori Graves, who, with her family, owns Morning Fresh Dairy in Bellvue north of Fort Collins between the mouth of Rist Canyon and Ted's Place.

During its push toward the plains on June 11, the High Park Fire swept down to the base of the foothills all the way to Morning Fresh Dairy's pastures, where Graves said hundreds of milk cows - a "good sized dairy herd" - are fed.

The fire threatened the dairy head-on, lapping to the edge of its corrals and sending embers into the pens, igniting small fires all over.

But the Graves family stood its ground, and, with the help of more than 20 friends and employees, saved the dairy from the High Park Fire without outside help. No cows or structures were injured or lost, and the dairy's operation never skipped a beat.

"We were supposed to have to evacuate, but we didn't because just to move that many cows was pretty close to impossible," Graves said. "What we did, we had our own fire line."

The family fired up all the dairy's irrigation sprinklers and stood at the edge of the property, armed with water and shovels to keep the fire at bay.

Morning Fresh employees and the family stood where the fire was burning close to the animals, spraying water to douse the flames.

When embers flew into the corrals and started small ground fires, "we'd get buckets of water from the pens and throw it on there," said Morning Fresh employee Arturo Gomez.

"We wore ski goggles," said Lori's son, Trevor Graves. "We put tractors up there. We made a line and we started fighting it. It was nothing more than a big fire. You just got to put dirt on it. Dirt doesn't burn."

They did that for 24 hours and kept watch for another 48 hours until the fire line finally held.

"It was pretty crazy for a while," Graves said. "We had heifers we had to protect. We had houses over there, too, that were in immediate danger. It was unlike anything I've ever done before. It was just crazy."

But as crazy as it became as the High Park Fire burned closer and closer, the Graves family had little choice but to protect their livelihoods.

"We're tough," she said. "Gotta keep the cows fed and watered, gotta milk the cows."

The cows survived the ordeal apparently none the worse for the experience. They kept drinking water and produced their normal amount of milk, showing that they were not under much stress, Graves said.

She said that, as the fire closed in, she stood there snapping photos of the entire event, posting many on the dairy's Facebook page.

"I'm not even sure I've gotten to the emotional release of the whole thing," she said. "I think most of us are still kind of in shock."

Written by Bobby Magill

(Copyright © 2012 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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