Big Chili undaunted by a small chill

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Community rallies for 12th annual Big Chili Cook-off, amid some raindrops

By Sandy Barnes

As a rain shower temporarily doused the festivities at Evergreen Lake on Sunday afternoon, a large gathering took time out from tasting enticing chili recipes to honor area firefighters.

“Today is about our brave men and women who risk their lives,” master of ceremonies Pete MacKay said at the 12th annual Big Chili Cook-off.

Chili and firefighters took center stage throughout the event, which drew thousands. The sweet, tangy aromas of 60 varieties of chili wafted through the air as festival-goers strolled by the tents and tasted samples. With intriguing names such as Cat’s Cow Pig Red Chili and Mama D’s Green with Envy, the cooks competed with one another in the annual fund-raising event for six area fire departments.

Elk Run Assisted Living received two top awards from judges and festival attendees for its Elk Run Verde Vegetali Green chili. Jeff Genender also garnered two awards, one for the Evergreen Fire Deparment entry in the firefighters' chili competition, and a second-place award for his green chili called Know Your Egress Green.

Firefighters who participated in the traditional Firefighter Challenge also drew attention from spectators, who cheered them on during the competition.

Dressed in full bunker gear weighing 65 pounds, 57-year-old Mark Neuroth of the North Fork Fire Department began the challenge as a seasoned veteran of past competitions.

From cutting wood with a chainsaw to crawling through culverts and hauling a charged fire hose, Neuroth finished the course in just over 2 minutes. 

The parents of Josh Burnett of Evergreen Fire/Rescue stood on a hill near the golf course watching their son compete for the first time. The crowd cheered as Burnett maneuvered through the course. A couple of penalties, including sawing through the paint on the wood barrier, slowed Burnett’s official time to 2 minutes, 9.9 seconds.

However, his parents, Sherri and John Mayo, were proud of their son, who joined the Evergreen department last year.

“I was with the Buena Vista Fire Department,” said John Mayo. “It is neat to see him follow suit.”

“The cut looks good. The cones look good,” MacKay said as Jeff Rau of Inter-Canyon Fire-Rescue took his turn in the competition.

With a time of 1 minute, 45 seconds and no penalties, Rau emerged as the winner of the event. He was closely followed by firefighter Ryan Kessler of the Elk Creek Fire Department, who clocked a time of 1 minute, 47.5 seconds.

“Go, Aaron!” shouted firefighters with Indian Hills Fire Rescue as member Aaron Ratke hustled through the course and pulled a heavy dummy over the finish line. 

Ryan Swindler of Platte Canyon Fire finished with a time of 1 minute, 57 seconds. While he was confident, Swindler was given a penalty for putting his hand on a cone, MacKay noted.

During the day, youngsters also had a good time playing on a vintage fire truck from the Inter-Canyon department and participating in activities offered by the Center for the Arts Evergreen.

Performances by a variety of musicians, including headliner Firefall, and an art show at the Lake House added to the day’s festivities. 

Major sponsors of the event were Blue Spruce Kiwanis and State Farm Insurance, which were joined by a host of other supporters, including Evergreen Newspapers.

And the winners are …

Restaurant category

Best restaurant, vegetarian: Elk Run Assisted Living, Elk Run Verde Vegetali Green

Best restaurant, red: Cactus Jack, Cactus Jack's Red

Best restaurant, green: Tommy Knockers, Tommy Knockers Original Pork Green

General category


First place: James Anderson, Aiden's Alternative

Second place: Kristine Tuelle,  Hot Mama's Veggie

Third place: Brett Ulrich, Dane's Doggone Good Chili


First place: Rob Walker, Napa Auto Parts, Napa's Hot Rod Red

Second place: Michael Long, Whole Lotta Rub Red

Third place: Christina Hunt, Red, White and Blue Beanie Bison


First place: Darcy LeFleur, St. Anthony Centura Health, Mama B's Green with Envy

Second place: Jeff Genender, Know Your Egress Green

Third place: Kelsey and Warren Bunker, The Bunker Buster

People's Choice Awards

Showmanship award: Evergreen Christian Outreach, EChO Food Bank Red

First place vegetarian: Elk Run Assisted Living, Elk Run Verde Vegetali Green Chili

First place red: Joel Fleet, Toro de Fuego

First place green: Craig Lean, Leano's Green

Firefighter's Chili Award: Jeff Genender, Know Your Egress Green