With wire screens supplied by the American Red Cross, Ralph Moreman and family spent three weeks hunting for memories in the fine gray ash of their Mountain Shadows neighborhood home.
On Christmas afternoon, Moreman made another pilgrimage home – even if that home is no longer standing.
“One of the first things we pulled out of the ash was a Christmas ornament from my great grandmother,” Moreman said with a smile Tuesday. He recalled the moment as he and his grown son sat in an idling sport-utility vehicle near the spot on Majestic Drive where the Waldo Canyon fire claimed his home of 20 years.
For residents of Colorado Springs’ burn zone, the holidays brought a bittersweet mix of painful memories and cautious optimism.
Six months after the deadly Waldo Canyon fire killed two people, devoured 18,247 acres and at least 346 homes, new homes are sprouting by the day, and the sounds of holiday celebrations were all around Tuesday.
But so were signs of devastation – the charred hills covered in a dusting of snow, the empty lots, the rubble heaped in trash bins.
“We haven’t really checked back in with the neighborhood since the fire,” said Carl Frohman, a 2001 Air Force Academy graduate spending the holidays with his parents-in-law, Hung and Loan Kieu, who live in the neighborhood. With his 1-year-old son Cole bundled in his arms, Frohman and several relatives headed off on a tour of the burn areas.
The walk took them past burned-out foundations and haunting memorials, like one spelled out in Christmas lights on a privacy fence along Flying W Ranch Road: “We love you Ashton Place and Courtney” — two streets hit hard by the fire.
Frohman, who described the devastation as “surreal,” said the Kieus believe they, too, could have lost everything had it not been for Colorado Springs firefighters’ efforts in clearing out slash around the house.
On a stroll down Chuck Wagon Drive, Chuck Giametta said damage to his rental home landed him in a hotel for five weeks.
“It’s a little disturbing to look up and see the charred hills, but we were lucky to be spared,” he said.
Walking through Mountain Shadows six months later, Giametta reflects on hopeful signs — like the family that returned “home” around Thanksgiving to get a portrait in front of their new foundation. He laughed while recounting how the photographer scrambled to get into the shot.
“It was very touching,” he said.
Moreman, now in a rental home in Colorado Springs, said he will begin rebuilding on Majestic Drive in January.
Some of his neighbors have left for good, he said, and he and his wife thought about starting new elsewhere, too, including in Fountain or farther east in Colorado Springs, where fire is less of a concern.
In the end, though, they decided to stay where their memories are, he said.
“We just keep coming back. This is our neighborhood.”