Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Fire takes toll on two elderly parents, five grown kids and their six houses

By Carol McGraw Updated: June 14, 2013 at 8:05 am

When the firestorm raced across Black Forest, five grown children of Mike and Frances Vialpando feared it could be bad for all of them. The close-knit family lived almost within shouting distance of one another, spread among six homes in the rustic historic enclave once known as Brentwood Estates and Cabin Sites.

Since then, it has been days of hope and despair, rumors and wishful thinking as the family waited to see if the homes were left standing. They were particularly fearful that they had lost their childhood home, where their parents have lived for more than 50 years.

The area was platted in 1926 as a recreation area with cabins, tents and trailers, said Rick Van Dyke, a manager with the El Paso County Assessor's Office.

"As time went by, it evolved into a residential area," he said. "It's an eclectic mix of older and newer homes, cabins, mobile homes."

The senior Vialpandos moved there in 1962. Mike had attended Fountain High School and served in the Marines; Frances graduated from Florence High School.

They met at The Broadmoor hotel, where he was a carpenter and she was a housekeeper. He later served as a deputy sheriff, then worked for the Air Force Academy in civil service, daughter Theresa Knoll said.

Mike and Frances had seven children. The kids walked to the general store, went to Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church and attended Edith Wolford Elementary School when Wolford was principal.

The siblings grew up, and several of them moved away.

"Over the years, we all scattered around the world but came back here because it is home," Knoll said.

One sibling, Steve, died about eight years ago in a motorcycle crash.

Another sibling, Lenor Reinhardt, lives in Colorado Springs.

The rest are in Black Forest, including Bonnie Vialpando Kruse, who lives on Swan Road in a unique home that was once a small Catholic church and, later, the Candy Shack restaurant. It was late afternoon Tuesday when ash began falling and flames began churning near her property as she fled.

"It looked like a corner of the house was on fire," Kruse said.

She rushed east half a mile to her elderly parents' home.

"They were watching TV but didn't seem to see the urgency," Kruse said.

She got them into her car, leaving behind medications, photos, even clothes.

Meanwhile, her brother James was rushing toward her house with a shovel because he saw flames. He had to turn back and saw that his truck was on fire. So was his house and a barn that contained his construction tools. He ran to his parents' house, where his brother Ronald had gone. They escaped the fire in two family trucks.

From her home in Colorado Springs, Lenor saw the fire on TV and had a sinking feeling that her parents' home might burn.

"My parents' house is the nucleus of this family," Lenor said.

Another brother, Michael, and his wife were in Minnesota on vacation and hurried back.

Now most everyone is scattered around Colorado Springs with relatives and friends. Theresa Knoll and her husband are staying in their RV with Mike and Frances.

Frances, 75, is worried about her cat, Boots, who couldn't be found before they had to flee.

Mike, 86, is worried that his property will never look the same again.

"I like trees," he said.

Unfortunately, his fears are on target. Mike and Frances lost their home, as did Theresa Knoll and her husband.

James, Ronald and Michael are almost positive their homes were destroyed as well. Bonnie's home may have survived but with damage. Some of them have no house insurance.

Still, they have each other. On Thursday evening, the family gathered at a restaurant to celebrate being together and to take comfort in one another.

And they talked about rebuilding. Some were torn on what they should do.

The family patriarch, who built the family home with his hands, made it clear: "I'm not going anywhere else."

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