Updated: June 26, 2013 at 6:52 am
Here are some readers' memories of the Waldo Canyon fire, which raced into Mountain Shadows and other parts of town June 26, 2012:
This story of the Waldo Canyon fire is dedicated to our dear friends Robert and Ginger Evelyn and Desiree Erhart, whose friendship, love, and support carried me and my family (plus our cats) through the horrors of the fire in June of 2012.
The memories of June 23 through June 28 are actually burnt - in the true sense of the word - in my brain. They are very vivid and ever present and always will be. Fifteen years ago I came from Germany to Colorado, and everybody who knows Western Europe knows that because of its dense population and very limited (wild) nature there's hardly any natural threat there except maybe some strong winds occasionally or flooding of the rivers as it is happening right now.
So when I came to Colorado Springs I was thrilled to have nature right outside our front door and mountains and forests almost next to our back yard. I've seen bears in our trash cans, coyotes in the hills across the street, foxes, bobcats, skunks, a lot of deer and of course the ever-present raccoon who persistently tries to eat the cat and bird food. I loved it. It gave me a feeling of adventure and true living.
But the Waldo Canyon fire changed my perspective a lot. Lovely Mother Nature can lash out at you and thousands around you and become a real threat to your life. Her power and force make you small and every vulnerable. I remember looking out my son's bedroom windows (which faces southwest) in our Rockrimmon home around midnight of June 23. The Waldo Canyon fire had only started about 11 hours ago. An unspeakable panic filled me as I watched the high orange flames emerging from the forests so close to our home in an otherwise dark night. Feelings mixed of fear, terror, and pain filled my thoughts. My heart went out at that moment already to all the animals that had lost their lives by now or would be killed in the coming hours and days.
The next morning, Sunday, June 24, I talked to my mother and brother in Germany. I told them about the fire which expanded so rapidly and couldn't be contained. I remember my brother saying "Pack a few things and leave the house. Take the boys and if you have to the cats and leave. But always stay together." He repeated it during our conversations at least 10 times and I felt my panic rise every time he said it.
The truth of his words didn't settle in until Tuesday, June 26th. The fire had spread fast to cover more than 15,000 acres, mostly in the direction where we lived - Mountain Shadows and Rockrimmon. But somehow I felt relieved on that Tuesday morning, because today finally there would be help in fighting the fire through the military forces. What over 1,000 firefighters weren't able to do, maybe the military could. Was it possible that a city of half a million people could be destroyed by a wildfire in the 21st century? Thoughts like this cross your mind when everything seems so hopeless.
When I went to my car during lunchtime that day I suddenly felt so much relief when I looked toward the mountains and saw all these big military planes fly over the burning area and dropping huge amount of the orange-colored retardant. Now finally the fire had no chance anymore.
How wrong I was I didn't know at that moment. About four hours later, I looked out a window in the Current building where I work and couldn't believe my eyes. Huge clouds of grey smoke from the west had almost reached the building. From countless places in the closest hills yard-high flames were leaping into the air. This couldn't be true. I called to the next person I saw around, which was our young material handler and "girl-for-everything" Desiree Erhart. She also looked stunned and in disbelief out the window. I told her that I lived in the area where the worst scenario seemed to be. She turned around and said to me, "If you have to leave your house, you and your family can come to my apartment. I can stay with my parents for a couple of days and you can have my apartment." I couldn't believe what I had just heard. Without a moment's hesitation, that young girl had offered her help. I had only known her for a couple of months. She was barely 18 years old and had worked in our department only briefly. I had never met such a selfless young person in all my life before. I didn't know how to thank her. It was overwhelming.
A little later, before I left the Current building full of fear and close to tears, my coworker and longtime friend Ginger came up to me and said: "You hurry home now and pack a few things. I talked to Bob on the phone. He's waiting for you and your family. You can stay in our house as long as you have to. And bring the cats, too. Go now, and come to our house as soon as you can." Could it be? The second offer of help within a few minutes. Neither Desiree nor Ginger had hesitated a moment in showing their support. I was more than grateful.
My drive home was a real horror trip. Woodmen Road was jammed with cars in both directions, hardly moving at all. Police cars with lights flashing and sirens blurring tried to get through all this traffic. My panic rose with every yard I crept forward. Shortly before I reached the intersection of Rcokrimmon Boulevard and Delmonico Drive smoke suddenly was surrounding the car and above the smoke the air was of a bright, dense orange color. What was that? Was I already in the middle of the fire? Would I ever be able to make it to my house? Suddenly a scene of the movie "Dante's Peak" flashed in my mind. Pierce Brosnan driving a car in the first hour after eruption of the volcano, trying to find his way through all the chaos; just like I was. But this was reality, no movie scene. This was 'Dante's Peak', 'Dante's Inferno', and 'Independence Day' all in the same setting. And I was in the middle of it, scared to death.
Once I turned left at Delmonico the cars became less and the smoke and the intense orange color of the air decreased. When I finally reached my home I knew the worst part would now begin. I had to pack what I could and as fast I could. But what do you take in a situation like this when you don't know if you'll ever come back? Suddenly things you've never looked at in years become important and you are sure you can't leave them behind. There was no question I had to take a box full of letters of letters my mother had written to me over the years; hundreds of photos of my sons; a huge Teddy bear one of my sons had given to me as a Christmas gift. It filled ? of a trunk by itself. I had to save my clocks, pictures, a few paintings, porcelain figurines, dolls, but most of all our cats.
We had four cats of our own and were feeding five strays which stayed in the garage overnight and became tame except for one. They all were part of our family; we grew attached to them, and they depended on us. We wouldn't abandon them, no matter what. But where would we put nine cats? We only had two pet carriers. Suddenly I remembered our guinea pig cages, and the problem was solved. Catching all the cats proved to be another problem. The cats were frightened and nervous as we were and were trying to hide all over the house. But we managed to catch them all except one, the mother of the strays. As hard as it was, we had to leave her behind.
While running around heedlessly all over the house fetching this and that and putting it in the boxes and suitcases I accidently caught my reflection in the mirror. A strange face looked at me, bright red like a ripe tomato. At the same moment I noticed how incredibly hot it was in the house. The air was heavy from smoke which burnt my throat right down to the stomach. And all the while I heard our big maple tree in front of the house lash its heavy branches against the walls and windows. We later learned that the firestorm causes the wind speed to reach 65 miles per hour.
With all the cats and a few belongings in the cars, it was time to go. The police had been in our cul-de-sac twice already, asking we were ready to leave. It was after 9 o'clock. Over two hours earlier, the phone had rung and a voice told us that our neighborhood had to be evacuated immediately.
I shall never forget standing at our front door, bound to leave and crying because I had to leave almost everything behind, especially all my dolls. My youngest son looked at me (he and his brother had only taken their computers) and in the same moment started yelling at his brothers, who were already outside: "Grab all the dolls you can and stuff them in the car." And that's what they did as I stood in disbelief. In a matter of minutes they had loaded at least 20 (some of them life-size) dolls in the already overstuffed cars.
When we drove away I looked at the house through tears as long as I could. It looked so nice, so quiet. It was our fortress for 15 years. Would it still be there tomorrow? Or would the fire reach it and burn it down to the ground and take away 15 years of our lives?
We had decided to accept the offer to help us of my friend and coworker Ginger Evelyn and her husband, Bob. We didn't want to disturb the life of an 18-year-old girl who had only a few months before moved into her first apartment. Although I think her offer showed more maturity, charity and understanding than most adults ever show in their life.
With four overstuffed cars we arrived at our friend's house. Bob and Ginger welcomed us warmly: they assured us their house was our house as long as we needed it. Still I felt awkward to have to use their home, their hospitality. I didn't want to be an intruder, didn't want to mess up their lives, especially with nine cats. Once we had let them out of their carriers, most of them ran to hide under the bed, only two or three brave ones stayed around us.
That first night in Ginger's and Bob's house I couldn't sleep. My eyes felt dry and cold because I couldn't keep them closed. Every second I had the same thought: was the house burning at this moment? Where was Ellie, the stray mother cat? Had she managed to escape? Under the bed, the cats were growling at each other constantly, a monstrous, depressing orchestra.
Some time in the middle of the night I felt one of the stray cats jump on the bed. I reached out a hand and started stroking its fur and the cat lied down and started purring so loud I had never heard that from a stray before. That sound felt so good. I knew the cats were as frightened and disturbed as we were. That cat had reached out for me to feel a little safety and a little bit of home. It gave the same feeling back to me. We were all safe and we were together.
The next two days kept us in a state of uneasiness and nervousness. What was happening in Rockrimmon? Was the fire still spreading? The news coverage on TV didn't have any relieving answers yet. Not knowing what was going on kept me in a state of fear and panic. Everything felt so surreal. I couldn't eat. I remember sitting on the patio of our friend's house and staring west at the mountains. The wind was still strong on Wednesday, June 27. Military planes and helicopters were flying over the site of the fire, constantly spreading retardant. That meant the fire was still active, but was it also still spreading? Bob Evelyn, my friend's husband, was sitting beside me. Most of the time, he was as quiet as I was. He is a retired firefighter and I'm sure in his thoughts he was with his fellow firefighters up in the foothills battling those flames. His experience also must have told him what a cruel job it was to fight such a horrendous fire. He told me how extremely difficult it was for the men to gain ground because the area where the fire was, is very rugged and hard to get to. The extreme heat and the strong winds were another bad factor to consider. I knew Bob sensed my fear, the shaky state my mind and body were in. In his profession I'm convinced psychological training is as important as physical training. So Bob kept sitting quietly beside me. He never tried to cheer me up. He didn't lie to me and never assured me that our house was safe, because like me and everybody else around us, he didn't know. All the years as a firefighter had taught him about the unpredictability of a wildfire.
I cannot thank him enough for this attitude. His quiet presence beside me in the chair on his patio in the afternoon hours of Wednesday, June 27, were the best support and help I could have.
Later that day we learned that 346 houses in the Mountain Shadows area had burned down in the later afternoon hours of June 26, the day we had to leave our home. But still there were no relieving news that the fire could be stopped. We had to use our friend's hospitality for yet another night; another endless night with nine cats in the room, constantly growling at each other. My worst nightmare was the mess they would leave in my friend's house.
The breaking news came the next day, Thursday, June 28, at around 3 p.m. The Rockrimmon residents living in the easternmost part of the neighborhood were allowed to go back to their homes at 8 o'clock that evening. That area would be safe from the fire. Finally relieving news which lifted a rock from my shoulders. Our lives could go on. Our home was still there, untouched by the fire. Everything looked the same when we arrived home two days after we had to abandon everything. Ellie was still there; shy but obviously happy to see us. There was hardly any ash anywhere, not even on the glass patio table. We found a few bigger pieces of burnt material scattered around the yard which we kept as a keepsake and a reminder of the worst days of our lives which were made bearable by the friendship, support, and hospitality of our friends Robert and Ginger Evelyn, and also by Desiree Erhart, who had shown her friendship by offering her apartment the minute she knew we needed help.
We would act that same way now too, after we experienced our friend's loyalty and support and what it meant to us. Today we and my family would also take somebody into our house if he or she needed help, even if they brought eight cats or 10 dogs along. But I'm sure we couldn't have done that before the Waldo Canyon fire.
P.S.: When I cleaned up in my friend's house after we moved the cats and our belongings back home, I was more than surprised to find not a piece of dirt from the cats. They had stayed two days and two nights in a strange home and behaved like guests are supposed to behave. They hadn't made a mess at all. Thank God!
6130 Willow Creek Ct, 80919
Hi my name is Sylvia Price, I had lived on Linger Way in Mountain Shadows for 19 years. Of the 19 homes on our street, 15 of them were a complete loss. The pictures are the before and after of my garden. A garden that I loved spending time in and put many, many hours of labor into it, mostly correcting my own mistakes.
You hear people say that it is just stuff, that it can be replaced. Yes, TVs, blenders, treadmills and the like can be replaced, but family heirlooms cannot be. Those first few days after the fire when I was coming to terms with our loss, I felt like someone that I loved had died, that was the intensity of my emotional pain.
Because my husband had grown up sailing on the East Coast, he wanted to get back to that even before the fire. So about two months after the fire we relocated to the west coast of Florida so my husband could get back into boating. The move has not been easy for me, I left behind a ton of friends and those beautiful mountains.
Sincerely, Sylvia Price
(I wrote this song while sitting on thd hill above what used to be my house, overlooking the ashes and rubble.)
Mountain Shadows Prayer
The trees tell the story of a fire roaring through. Beautiful trees once standing now skeletons remain.
Ribbon of Your presence, come to this place. Find Your way through the ashes to touch this parched place. Touch each pile of rubble with your sweet embrace. Bring beauty from the ashes. Let it be a song of grace.
We are broken hearted, torn from so much loss. As we sift through the ashes and stand upon this loss. Staring at the rubble, nothing to say, searching for a treasure does anything remain?
Ribbon of your presence, wind your way around our hearts, for our emptiness screams anguish as we reach to touch what's lost. May the memories that haunt us turn to treasures to hold dear.
We are broken hearted, seared from so much grief. As we begin a chapter of building something new, excavate the darkness and heal our hearts anew.
Ribbon of your presence as you restore this broken place, may the beauty from the ashes be the song to declare Your grace.
Shauna Hoey 2012
The Trees, My Friends, My loss
Comfort is the breeze softly touching me through the rustling leaves
Branches covering me is protection
Beautiful leaves dancing in the breeze woe me
Whisper of goodness is the dancing light through the leaves
My shelter is the strength of the branches and trunk
Stability is their faithful presence
Awesome is looking up into the sky through the leaves glistening with light.
My friends because they always remain even through a storm
In the storm of the fire, the trees boiled from within and the beauty sizzled to charcoal skeletons. Removing the burned skeletons of my friends feels like cutting off a limb from my body. I cannot bear the thrashing of our once beautiful trees.
I am a tree. I am strong. I cover people and protect them, just like the trees cover and protect me. I move with beauty and grace like the trees. In the seasons I change. This season I grieve and shed the loss of my past. I feel the wind stretch me and tear off the dead leaves and branches that are no longer needed. I see from above all the life and changes on the earth. The day the fire came I felt the heat and I felt myself burn as all was consumed around me. I felt the house engulf in flames. I was so sad because it was such a pretty house full of love.
Shauna Hoey 2012
(I wrote this because I believe many others have felt this way.)
Rubble Beneath my Feet
The ache in my heart won't leave me alone and the pain is overflowing.
My heart aches and the pain in swelling in my chest. God help me excavate the darkness. Tonight I feel the ashes beneath my bare feet where my house once stood, now a hole in the ground. I feel the hole in my heart where my sadness from a beautiful house lost is now rubble beneath my feet. The ashes sing out of anguish, for not just the loss of a house, but all the losses from my life each singing their own notes. Somewhere, I feel empathy from a place where someone knows my pain. The ashes wail a gut wrenching cry from a place so deep, agony screams a grown of despair. The emptiness in the ashes drives me to crumple, face to the ground, knees to my heart and hands clinched declaring affliction.
20 Aug 2012
The Day I Danced on the Ashes
I feel comfort at the site of the ashes of my burned house because the ashes know my grief like no one else. The removal of the ashes was the next day. I felt the tearing of my heart.... and loss, having all that was left of my house taken to a dump. I am not a singer, or a painter, but a dancer, yes. I felt compelled to dance right there on top of the rubble and ash. The thought seemed strange, none the less, dancing is the expression of my heart and this dance needed proclamation. Several times I stood to dance, and sat down feeling embarrassed and afraid someone would see me. Finally, I turned on the song How Great Thou Art and began dancing. Something amazing happened in my spirit as every cell in my body and every inhibition was freed. This was not just a dance, it was a healing of my broken soul. My whole being shouted, " I will overcome, and even if it all burns, I will stand declaring me faith." The words in the music seared words of Truth in my spirit. The sound of the broken glass and debris crunching beneath my feet reminded me that beauty will triumph, even when brokenness screams.
(I wrote this because many of us felt like we entered the Valley of the Shadow of Death with this fire. Many of us found that we were forced to face pain from our pasts because trauma brings up old wounds.)
The Valley I Wondered About
So, this is the valley of the shadow of death.
Something is dead, but it is not me.
I stand with Jesus in this valley, not alone. I know, because I would suffocate without His presence.
I hear the groaning of my crushed soul. The cry is like a dying animal declaring its anguish. I wondered about this valley.......... now I know. This is the place where the broken people come. The kind of pain that shallows each breath to the faintest flow, and causes every cell in one's body to feel like a fog of death has descended.
I feel weight pushing the light from me and twisting my inner-being. The ache and emptiness takes my breath away and squelches the beauty of all good things. I hear groaning from the deep places in other hearts around here. I am not the only one. There are others suffering too.
I refuse to stay here! But I must walk through, because Jesus asked me to visit. This is the most ugly place. It wreaks the truth about the acts of harm one human can inflict on another. The truth is a stench unbearable. Coming here allows me to know the truth about the ugly things. Because I am here, I replace lies with truth and I declare my healing.
Other people are here because they have lost someone from death and they can't find their way out. Overwhelming grief paralyzes them.
Good Shepherd, don't let me leave until I am healed and restored. Bring all of us broken people out of this place.
Memories Burned Fracture our Essence
A well-meaning person says, "At least you have your memories. Nothing can take those from you", with a smile that says I contributed to you feeling better. I restrain myself from reacting to the bubbling anger triggered. What? Did you know my house burned down? Did you know I lost my child's kindergarten fingerprints carefully molded on a plate that was on the wall that is now ash? I lost the picture that hung on the wall in my grandmother's house most of her life, my visual link to my deceased gram is gone. After it all burned I accidentally drove home to the pile of rubble instead of my temporary residence. I felt so stupid. I reached to open a can and remembered that I have no can opener. I can't sleep. Again, I can't sleep. Will I ever sleep? Then there were the nightmares, once I did sleep. The worst was of the mama cat who had 7 kittens, one at a time.........all dead from her womb. In the same nightmare, came the the young woman pregnant out of wedlock, alone. The baby was coming and I was the only one there? Me? Oh know!... I am inadequate for this task, but I comforted the distressed woman. I reached to support the crowning child. The baby came out with a crushed skull, dead. I held the baby speechless and woke up. Is there any peace?
"You still have your memories.............." NO!
I smile and walk on so as not lash out on a well-meaning person.
Stuff is important to us because we can't remember. The dear moments of the now, fade with each second. Now disappears without our permission, fading farther behind with every minute. We are temporal beings dependent on our memory to continue to touch all that is dear to us. Our whole life is mostly a memory and the older we get, we occupy the past. Our stuff is dear because it touches that which is our memory of the past, the very core of who we are. The sadness is so great because the bonds to our past are severed, therefore fracturing our essence.
Shaua Hoey 2012
The day We Knew
We all stayed glued to the TV hoping for news. No real news came only vague comments from the overseers. The day Mountain Shadows burned I didn't know if my house made it. The officials wouldn't give us a street name or a map that showed us exactly where the fire was. I tried to figure it out and after many attempts, I gave up. I made phone calls to see if anyone had a map of the areas that burned. My mom called me and told me she she thought my house was gone. How could she know? She lives in Phoenix. I saw ariel photos from the Phoenix Sun but I could not tell what was what since Colorado Springs would not give a reference point. There was a meeting set at UCCS to inform us of our fate. I didn't know for sure. I thought the house was probably toast, but the not knowing was worse than knowing. Waiting may have been the worst part of the fire, the unsettling feeling of wondering if your home was standing or not. The night came for us to find out the truth. We waited in a gym for an hour before they sifted us to breakout rooms. Surprisingly the impersonal gym felt warm with people that cared. Then the waiting continued. What was the purpose of prolonged answers? Did they forget we were waiting to know if our homes are standing or not? We were all brave waiting in that gym. Some knew. Most of us did not. Ushered into the next room we waited for a stapled packet of address with the words damaged or destroyed written next to our address in bold print. Couldn't they have just posted the addresses on a big screen? We all just wanted the truth. This was a little too much to bear. Well, guess what? When we were waiting for people to pass out the list of addresses, some tables were forgotten. Can you imagine all that waiting and everyone in the room has a list and you don't?
I held the packet in my hands. The cool weightless paper weighed me down like a palate of bricks. I felt the cold fibrous paper burn my hands as my brain registered the catastrophic loss. Flipping though the pages blistered my hands as I flipped though the pages of addresses representing families whose lives would never be the same. Addresses that seemed endless, line after line with the words DAMAGED or DESTROYED. I ran my hand over the list touching each residence. My eyes honed in on the first letter of my street. I ran my hand over the page until I saw the letters 2557 Hot Springs. Boldly printed............ the letters DESTROYED confirmed my house was gone. Emotion escaped me, I think it escaped all of us at the table. My eyes focused on the others. There was only one that had a house standing. We all just starred blankly with heavy hearts.
You could hear a pin drop in thickness of the air. Silence remained through the broken crowd as they confirmed their addresses. I thought I may hear wailing. I heard nothing. I saw no tears. Silence was broken with questions. Some were angry because after all this waiting, we were told it was not safe to view our homes. Again, we had to wait. Ink on a page decided our fate. I wish they told us earlier, because they knew. Knowing and not telling prolonged our suffering.
Shauna Hoey 2013
At different times of my life I life I have been given keys. Keys have come in different forms, mostly friendships and opportunity. When I have experienced failures, keys to success seem to find a way in different forms. When I have felt despair, keys to happiness have come in an unexpected surprises. Keys have been power like the car keys in the hand of a 16 year old or a longing fulfilled, like the keys to a first home. Sometimes they have been comfort to a door that leads to safety from harm.
I have had many keys in my life and this time I have the keys to my yellow house, the house that was a place of refuge for me as a single mom, the house that I love because of sweet memories. My lovely yellow house burned to a pile of rubble in The Waldo Canyon fire. I used to sit on the ashes and cry. I figured out that the ashes knew my pain like no one else. The day the builder put in the concrete footers for the foundation, I came over to the property by chance, not knowing the footers were going in that day. That day I wrote wonderful words in the concrete as a testament of hope. Every step of the building process I was there, carving hope into the concrete and speaking blessing through every fiber of the house. Words and pictures were written on the walls to guard and protect the house forever. I prayed and I prayed over this house, along with others who gave their blessings. I designed it from the naked plans pulled out from microfiche in the archives of the city. As the structure was built, I chose everything carefully. Hours and hours every day I babied this house to bring it back to life. As each phase finished, the choices that I labored over proved to be better than I imagined. I made endless trips to the paint store to pick the perfect colors and then lost sleep hoping I picked the right colors. This house has my fingerprints throughout every facet along with my loving care. No one will know but me and the yellow house, how much I invested. Isn't that what we are supposed to do, give our best to what ever we touch. Well, I did. And now, I have the keys to the house once again. As I rebuilt the house, I think I rebuilt myself. Each stage forced me to heal from other piles of ashes in my life. Today, I have the keys in my hands, keys to a new beginning, something beautiful. My hands are open.
Shauna Hoey 2012
Waldo Scrapbook May 31, 2013
I am a resident of Oak Valley Drive in Rockrimmon. I also am a Block Captain for part of the street. I evacuated 45 minutes before it became mandatory on June 26; the smoke told me it was time.
Neighborhood Watch emails Waldo Scrapbook 2013 May 31
Neighborhood Watch Alert June 26, 2012 442PM
We are not yet in a Mandatory Evacuation situation but the fire has breached the ridge and is approaching Mountain Shadows. Mountain Shadows North and Peregrine are now under Mandatory Evacuation.
I suggest everyone load up their cars and be prepared to move out with 5-10 minutes notice.
Bill S, Block Captain
To Jessi (neighbor) June 26 521PM
Please call your mom or dad on their cell phones and tell them we are evacuating. Fire has breached the ridge, and we are in deep smoke although I don't think we are under mandatory evac yet. I will rescue (your dog) Lexi before I leave the area.
Neighborhood is OK - Eye Witness Account
Thursday June 28, 2012 2PM
Hi Neighbors and Friends,
At 110 PM on Thursday, June 28, 2012 I completed a tour of Oak Valley Drive in a CSPD vehicle. There is NO VISIBLE DAMAGE on Oak Valley Drive top to bottom. However, fire continues to burn in Blodgett Peak Open Space and a larger one above Oak Valley Ranch. The danger continues, but our area survived the Tuesday onslaught.
From viewpoint at top of hill on Oak Hills Drive, it is apparent the entire mountainside is black. I saw only one area that was destroyed in Mountain Shadows, but overall there were more houses visible than houses destroyed. We drove south on Centennial from Allegheny to Garden of the Gods. Fire reached Centennial from the West at two points but it was grass area only - I saw no destruction near Centennial.
Heard figure of 229 homes destroyed. No idea when we might be permitted to return. My guess is no sooner than Saturday.
Hope all is well with all evacuees.
Bill S, Block Captain
Vignettes from a Waldo Canyon Fire Evacuee --Things I Will Always Remember 07/01/2012
Introduction: I was forced to evacuate from my home in Northwest Colorado Springs on Tuesday, June 26 when the Waldo Canyon fire breached a nearby ridge. I returned home Saturday, June 30. My home was not damaged by the fire. Here are some scenes etched in my memory:
On the Saturday before the evacuation, my neighborhood was placed on a voluntary evacuation list. I returned home and took 55 minutes to gather food for my dog, take photos of every room, gather important papers and pictures, medicines, clothes, and two beers. I positioned the material in the garage next to my car ready to go.
The neighbor up the street prior to evacuation said she could either take her five dogs or her important papers. She, not surprisingly, took the dogs. Hats off to the family who hosted her during five days of evacuation along with the five dogs.
There was this guy, standing beside me waiting for mail, who assured me his house was OK. He had checked Google Earth and saw his home still standing. (I didn't have the courage to tell him Google Earth is not real time; some images are years old.) After a couple of days out of the house, it occurred to me that I could call my home phone number and see if the answering machine was working, a good indication that my house was still there. The answering machine worked.
Speaking of waiting in line for mail, we easily identified "the biggest loser" - the lady who had been waiting in line for her mail for 46 minutes. She was told in front of all of us, "No mail for you." I like getting mail the old fashion way - the mailman delivers it to your door.
At the conclusion of evacuation, yours truly, who had the good fortune to stay with a girlfriend, was advised, "You were more trouble than your puppy." (There is a reason we live in separate houses.)
Viewing the nearby devastation from the top of our hill, one neighbor related the challenge he encountered when helping evacuate an elderly neighbor. "She moved very slowly towards the front door; it seemed that time was standing still right in the middle of this emergency. Then she began telling stories. I finally got her to the front door when the phone rang. Good thing I answered because it was her daughter. I told her everything was OK; we were almost evacuated. I turned back towards the door only to bump into the almost-evacuated old lady; she had retreated all the way back to the phone. This way Granny; let's try it again."
We have an excavation site on the side of the mountain scornfully called "the scar." Its lack of burnable vegetation saved a neighborhood. Today I heard, "Thank you ugly scar."
She will stay with friends and rent out her home to a family which lost their home in the fire. Six months? Twelve months?
My sun tea, which stayed on the deck during evacuation, tastes "different." Perhaps I've invented something new - sun tea with ash. Perhaps not.
One remaining problem in those communities along Highway 24 is an invasion of the bears. So, "bear right" may not just be a GPS device command.
Complete strangers ask, "Are you OK?"
Other questions: If I am an official evacuee, do I have to put the toilet seat down at my friend's house (answer was a quick affirmative). How do I get to the dog park with all these roads closed? Where's my paper? Is it more smoky outside or inside? How do I cool off my house when it's smoky outside?
Best advice I received just prior to my evacuation drive: "go to the bathroom, traffic looks bad." Took me 1 3/4 hour travel time to go what usually takes 25 minutes.
Finally, I vividly recall looking at the fire from my vantage point at the top of the hill on day one and remarking to myself, "They are being really cautious about pre-evacuations. That fire would have to jump two ridgelines and burn hundreds of houses before it reaches mine." 346 houses were totally destroyed; two people died.
I'm safe. It's time to rebuild our community.