As smiling firefighters gathered in the audience, two small figures stood quietly in a corner of the stage at Chaffee County Fairgrounds.
The two were Neil McClelland, 9, and Sophie Almeida, 8, of Salida, two friends who raised $170 at their lemonade stand to donate to the firefighters.
At Thursday’s nightly briefing, some of the Decker Fire firefighters took the opportunity to say thank you to the two kids.
Mark Giacoletto, incident commander for the Decker Fire, thanked both kids for their donation when he brought them on stage.
Behind Neil and Sophie sat a Radio Flyer wagon filled with supplies that the $170 purchased. Neil said some of the supplies donated to the firefighters were Gatorade, energy bars and nuts.
The firefighters clapped loudly for the donation, and Sophie and Neil received hugs, handshakes and fist bumps from many firefighters.
After the thank yous, the firefighters went back to their nightly briefings for the Decker Fire.
Neil and Sophie watched the firefighters from the wings of the hall.
“I wish I had more lemonade,” Neil said quietly.
Kate McClelland, Neil’s mom, said Sophie and Neil have been friends since preschool and both came up with the idea to do the stand together.
Previously, the two have run lemonade stands for the Hayden Creek Fire and Children’s Hospital and donated the funds to organizations, Kate said.
Kate said the kids had decided to do a lemonade stand to help the firefighters but were told they would have to wait for a day when it was warm enough for lemonade.
Finally, on Saturday Sophie and Neil set up their lemonade stand at First and F streets on space provided by Ruby Blues, Kate said. The supplies were purchased by KW Restoration.
Throughout the day firefighters, visitors, residents and Colorado Department of Transportation workers all bought lemonade. Some passersby didn’t even buy lemonade but made a donation into the pair of kids’ fire boots at the stand, Kate said.
When the two kids saw the fire and smoke from Longfellow Elementary School, things became really real for them, Kate said.
Some of Neil’s friends and teachers have spouses who are firefighters or were evacuated from the Decker Fire, Kate said.
It can be hard for little kids to wrap their minds around something like a fire, she said.
Neil and Sophie felt like they wanted to do something, even if it was just a small part.
“I was excited to do something,” Neil said, adding that he knew the firefighters were working hard and it could be really dangerous.
Both Sophie and Neil agreed that Gatorade was their favorite thing to give the firefighters because it was so good.
Kate said she hoped everyone involved in the Decker Fire would make it home safely, whether that was to Salida or Alaska.
The entire time they spent with the firefighters, however, Sophie and Neil did not want to talk about themselves very much.
Instead, they had their eyes glued to the firefighters and watched them quietly from the background.