Teen helps fight lightning strike fire near Hayden

Family lost home last October during Cameron Peak Fire

Hayden teen Ryder Smith, 12, and West Routt Fire Protection District Chief Trevor Guire view the fire burn scar a day later. The teenager grabbed a shovel Tuesday afternoon and was the first to start stamping out flames after a lightning strike started one of four fires near Hayden. The Hobbs family home, where Smith also lives, is shown in the background.
Deo Hobbs/Courtesy photo

Longtime Routt County resident Deo Hobbs was outside feeding her three horses at her 40-acre home site northwest of Hayden late Tuesday afternoon when a “huge boom sounded, and her horses scattered.”

She looked across her field toward neighboring Colorado State Trust Land to see that a lightning strike had started a brush fire on the windy afternoon.

“Not knowing what to do, I tried to fill a bucket with water but realized very quickly that the fire was spreading fast. I called Ryder (Smith) and said, ‘We have a fire,'” Hobbs said.

Hobbs readily admits she was nearly panicking, and her hand was shaking as she called the local fire department and adjacent neighbors for help. She wasn’t sure if she should evacuate.

“Should I focus on evacuating or going out and help beat the fire out?” Hobbs thought. “I look back on it, and it was crazy.”

Reacting more calmly was 12-year-old Ryder, who helps his mom Teri Anne Fahleson as caretakers and roommates on the rural property. The teenager and his mom have lived at the home in Hayden for about a year after losing their own newly constructed home near Bellvue northwest of Fort Collins on Oct. 14, 2020, during the Cameron Peak Fire, Fahleson said.

“As I was on the phone trying to explain to the dispatch lady where the fire was and how to get here, Ryder, in a very relaxed manner, grabbed a shovel and looked at me as I am in a panic and walked over and started pounding the fire out with a shovel,” Hobbs said.

About 10 minutes later, neighbors arrived to join the fight, including Jake Booco and Jason Stewart, Hobbs said.

Then 28 minutes later, three vehicles including a water truck and four personnel arrived from the local fire district. West Routt Fire Protection District responded to four different fire ignitions around Hayden during a dry lightning storm from approximately 3-9 p.m. Tuesday, when wind gusts were up to about 20 mph, Fire Chief Trevor Guire said.

More information

Residents can learn how to protect their property by watching the webinar video, “Home Ignition Zone and Ready, Set, Go! Being prepared as an individual homeowner and rancher,” recorded in May as part of the 2021 Routt County Wildfire Mitigation Conference. The webinar is presented by Dan Beveridge, wildfire program mitigation specialist with the Colorado State Forest Service, and Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension director. Visit

The fire department helped put out the fire near the Hobbs home and remained on site to make sure everything was safe.

Hobbs called the afternoon a “life-changing event” and said her teenage renter “saved the day.” Smith is much more low key about the incident, even though this is the second time he has helped put out a small fire near the property after an earlier incident in July, when lightning hit a nearby electrical power pole, he said.

“I just grabbed a shovel and started putting it out. There was nothing to be scared of, to be honest,’ Smith said. “It was more of just instinct.”

Fahleson said since she and her son previously lived in rural Larimer County and had been on evacuation orders off and on during the Cameron Peak Fire and living in hotel rooms and in a family member’s camper, the family had talked a lot about wildfire safety. The mother and son later relocated to Routt County because the teenager loves to snowboard.

“He has a lot of experience living out in the woods, and we have always talked about fire safety and if a wildfire ever came through. And it came in handy yesterday,” said Fahleson, who was just returning from an errand in Hayden when she saw the grass fire burning.

“If it were not for the help of this boy who knew what to do, I think it would have been much worse,” Hobbs said.

Smith advises others who might be in the same situation, “Let other neighbors know, then take action and don’t hesitate.”

Chief Guire applauded the teen’s action, and he asked community members to remember to always call 911 immediately and then only work on a fire when it is safe.

“I commend Ryder for taking action, when it was safe to do so,” Guire said. “If it seems safe to do so, try to do what you can to control the fire but don’t risk human life.

“Even though we have removed fire restrictions within Routt County, fire is still a real threat,” he added.

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