Boulder Valley School District

Cal-Wood struggling to survive fire, pandemic

Cal-Wood struggling to survive fire, pandemic
Randy Barber

En Español

Following this October’s wildfire, Cal-Wood Education Center’s executive director says that he has been overwhelmed by the show of support from the Boulder Valley School District community.

Students, educators and families, many of them with a special place in their hearts because of previous visits to the center for outdoor education, called to share their concern and to pitch in and help the center.

“We heard from so many people,” said Rafael Salgado. “The day of the fire and the days after, I can’t tell you how many hundreds of emails, texts and phone calls. I still haven’t responded to all of them.”

The Cal-Wood fire, which began on October 17, was the largest ever recorded in Boulder County, burning more than 10,000 acres, including about half of the education center’s 1,200 acres. Fortunately, the buildings at Cal-Wood were spared.

He credits the aerial support by dropping retardant and intensive work on the ground by many firefighters for keeping the flames from moving west where all of the Center’s buildings were. “We were very thankful for that”, Salgado said.

“Entire sides of the mountains are clearly black and completely burned. I hike the property every time I get a chance to assess the damage and it is always heartbreaking,” Salgado said

While the fire destroyed 22 homes, Salgado says that all of the buildings at Cal-Wood were spared.

“We were very lucky and the firefighters did an excellent job of putting in a fireline,” said Salgado.

He credits the aerial firefighters with stopping the fire. 

“It is the only reason that the buildings are still standing,” Salgado said.

By dropping retardant directly behind his house, they were able to keep the flames from moving west, where the remainder of the center’s buildings were.

While nearly all of Cal-Wood’s staff were evacuated, Salgado, who has worked at the center for more than 20 years, pleaded with the fire commander to let him stay and offered to help take care of the firefighters.

“We had the food for the families that had come up from Lafayette for the weekend,” Salgado said. “I offered the food to the firefighters, as well as our cabins to stay in, and warm beds with COVID safe facilities.”

On November 15, the fire was finally 100% contained, but it will be some time before students will be able to return to Cal-Wood. The center, which was already struggling because of the pandemic, now has to focus on addressing the damage caused by the wildfire. In places dead, fully burnt trees remain standing. In others, the ground is exposed, causing worries of erosion and flooding.

Salgado says he is thankful for the generosity of the community, donors, businesses, and partner organizations like Thorne Nature Experience.

“It is great to hear that people are stepping up and asking how they can support Cal-Wood. It is so great that people are willing to donate to Cal-Wood so that we can recover from the pandemic and from this devastating fire,” Salgado said. “It is encouraging to hear the support we are getting from our community, especially from the schools – teachers, principals, parents and even kids.”

Amongst the first to step forward was the staff at Emerald Elementary, who donated $1,100.

READ MORE: Broomfield school donates toward fire recovery

“When the Calwood Fire broke out, I sent a note to my staff and I said, I’m personally making a donation, if anyone else would like to join me, we could just make it from Emerald,” Emerald Principal Samara Williams said. “Every person on my staff gave some amount of money, because they were so moved by the impact Cal-Wood had on our fifth graders.”

Last year was the first time that Emerald students had gone to the center, thanks to grants that helped to ensure that every child could go.

“I have a passion for what they do, especially for kids that don’t typically get to go to the mountains.  It really is wonderful,” Williams said. “Watching a kid eat their first smore is pretty special.” 

Cal-Wood believes donations like this will help them get through these very difficult times. They are now hoping that the situation with COVID-19 improves enough so that they can resume camps in the summer and outdoor education next fall.

“We often hear from principals, teachers, parents and kids about how important their trip to Cal-Wood was in their elementary school,” Salgado said, eager to welcome them back.

When they return, he knows that they will learn so much from the half-burned environment.

“A lot of good things will happen from this,” Salgado said. “I can see how the students and teachers will love to be part of the fire restoration. They will have the opportunity to learn about what the fire did and conduct research projects to understand the importance of fire mitigation. Plus, he says, they can play a role in rebuilding Cal-Wood for generations to come by planting new trees and rebuilding trails.

You can learn more about Cal-Wood Education Center at and donate to support the non-profit organization at

Watch the Cal-Wood Fire Video


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