Steamboat Springs U.S. Forest Service officials don't believe that a "non-organization of non-members" has the professional capacity to handle natural disasters and care for starving masses, as the group members claim.
Foresters denied issuing the Rainbow Family of Living Light a special-use permit last week because of extreme fire danger at the proposed site near Big Red Park in the Routt National Forest, about 35 miles north of Steamboat Springs.
But for 26-year Rainbow gathering veteran Rob Savoye, the family's fundamental "non-organizational" nature is precisely what allows its volunteer base to thrive in chaotic conditions.
"When we got to (Hurricane) Katrina, they were excited because we brought instant relief with mobile kitchens, a fully trained medical staff and a functional communications center," Savoye said. "We were treating people in the streets in August two blocks from the French Quarter and feeding the National Guard. We can coordinate as individuals. We don't fall apart in the chaos, we just fall together."
Savoye, 47, operates a computer-consulting business in Nederland. He said he was putting 30 years of search-and-rescue experience, Emergency Medical Technician certification and a degree in outdoor-recreation leadership, to work at the gathering.
"We have several dozen medics operating in the core communications group," Savoye said about the 35 to 40 members linked on repeater-capable modified ham radios.
The network of professionally trained technicians, midwives, retired and vacationing doctors and ex-military medics work based out of the Center for Alternative Living and Medicine, or C.A.L.M. camp, assembled directly adjacent to the large meadow where the gathering's main event, the July 4 prayer circle, is tentatively scheduled.
"We're really triage-oriented. We determine the criticality and then decide to pull the stops for an evacuation with our drivers waiting at" Forest Service Road 505, Savoye said.
Routt National Forest supervising forester Kent Foster was touring the facilities and spreading the fire-prevention message Sunday with members of the interagency Northwest Colorado Wildland Fire Program. He was concerned with the bigger evacuation issues surrounding a forest fire.
"Beetle kill's our main concern, with all the dead and dying, there's serious potential," Foster said, adding that Routt County and Routt National Forest officials should be enacting fire-burning restrictions early in the week.
Forest Service spokeswoman Kimberley Vogel reiterated that the gathering area has experienced numerous fires beginning in July, when dry lightning precedes summer afternoon showers. Such lightning started the Mount Zirkel Complex, a blaze that consumed 38,000 acres of the Routt National Forest on July 12, 2002.
The gatherers are also concerned that the site they selected sits in a fire corridor.
"Our plan would be to contract up Silver Creek and evacuate out the valley while we dig a defensive fire line and wait for the Forest Service," Savoye said. "We're part of the resource available to fight the fire. This is our home now. ... It was an amazing thing at the 1994 gathering in Snider Basin, Wyo., to see 3,500 people on a fire line a mile long beat an 8-acre fire to death in an hour and half."
Collective interest in forest welfare eased Savoye's concerns about smaller internal fires, such as the one ignited Thursday that gatherers and Forest Service officials said they quickly extinguished.
Gatherers also rely on self-appointed "firewatch" members, such as "Circus Maximus," a "firewalker" who patrols for unattended fires at night with his Pulaski firefighting ax in hand. The patrols ensure that community fires are contained in rock-lined areas and enforce the family consensus rule that prohibits personal campfires.
Work continued Sunday for other members who were taking charge of logistical tasks to support a projected community of 20,000 for the gathering, which officially begins Saturday.
"Hawker," a 38-year-old electrical engineer from Asheville, N.C., acts as an instrumental volunteer helping to construct an elaborate gravity-feed filtration system.
Without a U.S. Forest Service road block in place, "Hawker" and the Rainbow utility forces were able to bring in the large 400-foot coils of 3/4-inch irrigation tubing to start linking the higher elevation springs to two-stage ceramic filters and then to various kitchens. "Hawker" estimated that after the "primitive high-tech" system is complete, six to eight miles of water line would be installed.
-- To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129
or e.mail firstname.lastname@example.org