Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

A Walmart port in the storm

JESSE PAUL jesse.paul@gazette.com - Published: June 13, 2013 0

MONUMENT - The Robertsons started at Costco and wound up at Walmart.

They weren't shopping - they were running away.

"People don't understand how serious it gets or how the winds change," said John Robertson, a 66-year-old former firefighter who left his Black Forest home in a mobile home after being put on pre-evacuation notice. "I know [authorities] do their best to let people know as soon as they can, but it's best to get away before the rush."

Roberston and his wife spent Wednesday night camped out in the Costco parking lot on North Nevada Ave. in their mobile home. On Thursday morning, the couple moved to the Monument Walmart.

Across the region, scores of evacuees with recreational vehicles, mobile homes and campers are finding a respite in the parking lots of Walmarts, school parking lots and shopping centers. There, those impacted by the Black Forest Fire are waiting out the firestorm while they anxiously hope that their homes will survive.

In Falcon, a Walmart manager said he noticed "quite a few" new fixtures in the lot. At Lewis Palmer High School in Monument, there were a few more. One person was even camped out near Route 83 adjacent to a road block on Thursday morning.

"This is the first time we've had to evacuate in 30 years," said Rick Walker, 63, outside his parked RV at the Monument Walmart. "I guess we were just living on borrowed time."

Walker says he has camped at Walmarts all over the country, using the discount superstore as a free place to hop from place-to-place. On Thursday morning, the parking lot served as an endless storage space for his family, allowing them to obey their mandatory evacuation and escape with trailers-full of belongings.

In fact, most people set-up at different parking lots in the area didn't limit themselves to their mobile dwelling; there were boats, snowmobiles, cars, trucks and many trailers.

"We had enough time to move everything," Walker said.

Generally, Walmarts across the country allow mobile homes or campers in their parking lots for a night or two. In these extenuating circumstances, that rule is relaxed. During the Waldo Canyon Fire, the same mobile dwelling phenomenon occurred.

Paul Vergez, 57, said he was thankful that he, his wife were lucky enough to have a mobile home they could stay in during the fire. After their home a few miles from Route 83 was put on pre-evacuation notice, they decided to pack up and relocated to the parking lot at the Monument Walmart.

"We are trying to decide when it's safe to go home," Vergez said.

Fred Martinez and Anthony Lopez, who work at the Academy Bank within the Monument Walmart, were pushing around shopping carts filled with snacks and everyday essentials, knocking on mobile home doors in the parking lot and handing out the goodies.

"As long as we can help, we're going to do it," Lopez said.

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