Published: June 19, 2013
Eight days after losing his house to the most destructive fire in state history, Air Force volleyball coach Matt McShane could talk only of his good fortune.
"I'm a lucky guy," he said, more than once.
"I'm healthy, I'm alive," added McShane, the Falcons coach since January 2010. "I'm coaching volleyball today. I've got a few pages of stuff on my list of things to do, but I'm alive. My wife and I are getting through this."
McShane and his wife, Dana, were coaching a camp at the academy June 11 when an athletic trainer first told him of the fire. Knowing where it was in relation to his home, which sat about half a mile east down Wildridge Road from Edith Wolford Elementary School, the two of them raced home immediately and spent several hours packing their treasured keepsakes and their two Labradoodles before fleeing.
"Luckily, we were able to spend those couple of hours there," McShane said. "I'm not sure we could have gotten anything more. But, even driving away, you're thinking, 'OK, I'm going to be gone for a day, I'll be back.' I think we got everything we would have gotten. It's a little sobering to know that everything you own fits in the back of an SUV."
The couple learned their home was destroyed the next day and first saw a glimpse of the destruction via an overhead television shot.
They finally returned six days later, allowed back in only after getting tetanus shots and donning boots and gloves.
"Fire is an amazing thing," McShane said. "It just leveled our home. I sort of knew, but I wasn't prepared for, 'Wow, it really did.' It's now just 18 inches of ash and other stuff. But then there will be a perfectly fine coffee cup just sitting there."
The quirky details astounded the Falcons coach. His refrigerator was reduced to a molten pile of medal, yet a dog's toy made of rubber made it through unscathed.
The couple, who do not have children, are staying with friends and will move into a leased house Aug. 1 - two days before Air Force volleyball practice begins. They ultimately plan to rebuild in Black Forest.
McShane said the reaction he has received at Air Force has been supportive beyond his expectations.
"I work at the best place on the planet," said McShane, who was conducting another camp Wednesday with more than 150 screaming girls surrounding him. "I love this academy. . I'm out there coaching and I get to forget about it for a while. I'm really blessed that I get those distractions. There are people worse off than I am."
McShane saw the devastation awaiting some of those worse off on his return trip, but he also plenty of reason for hope as much of Black Forest remained untouched.
"There's the 500 of us that lost their homes and the 15,000 acres that burned, but the vast majority of the community is still there, thriving," he said. "We're all going to be fine. We just have to all be patient and stay. Some people want to get out, and I totally get that. We love that community and living in the trees, so we're going to rebuild."
Speaking of those trees, while viewing the remains of his home, McShane had the chance to ask a forest service representative what was to be done with the burnt trees on his property.
"I'm a volleyball coach, I don't know trees. I just know they're pretty," McShane said. "He said to only cut down the small ones that were completely burned. But he said, 'A lot of it will come back. You've just got to be patient, and you've got to let some of them go. It will surprise you. The forest is an amazing thing.'"
That's something McShane already knew, and why he considers himself lucky to call it home.