SOUTH PARK — The small community of Fairplay in Park County doubled in size over the weekend, when strong gusts stranded more than 700 holiday drivers.
The windstorm started late Friday evening and continued through Sunday. The wind was so strong both Friday and Saturday nights, gusts clocked in around 85mph.
“It was a little overwhelming,” said David Kintz. "We sheltered over 760 people in over 2 days which is the equivalent to the population of our town".
Kintz is Park County’s coroner, but he also serves as the chairman of the South Park Salvation Army. Together, the Salvation Army and Park County opened an emergency shelter to assist those in need.
"We’ve opened the shelters for forest fires and things like that in the past and had very few people arrive. We’ve never seen numbers like this for a shelter,” he said.
In fact, the number of stranded drivers got so high Friday night, the community of Fairplay had to open a second shelter right away.
“It was chaos!” explained Dee Patel, manager of the Riverside Inn hotel in Fairplay.
The Riverside Inn filled up quickly as stranded drivers made their way into town. With a lack of places to stay and shelters filled to the brim, Patel and her staff allowed several stranded travelers to setup makeshift beds wherever they could find room at the hotel.
“We tried to help them as much as we can. We gave them blankets, hot chocolate,” Patel said. "People were sitting here in the lobby, they were sleeping in the hallways, upstairs. Wherever they could find the space”.
South Park High School opened its doors for additional sleeping space and a couple of the town’s churches sent volunteers out to assist.
"I feel that’s core to our faith and its core to the values of our community to bending over backwards and helping each other out when we’re in need,” Kenny Shaw, Pastor of the South Park Community Church.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office even stepped in to assist its Park County neighbors. On Saturday night, conditions were so bad along Kenosha Pass, Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies responded in a Snowcat and helped rescue 22 people and three dogs.
The 760 stranded drivers were traveling along Highways 285, 24 and 9, according to officials.
As of Monday, some residents in Park County were still without power due to the windstorm.
For additional photos and video, check out the South Park Ambulance District's Facebook page.