Black Forest fire generates tales of grit and heroism

By Carol McGraw and Linda Navarro The Gazette - Published: June 14, 2013 | 9:10 pm 0

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Everyone affected by the Black Forest fire has tales to tell of unbelievable kindness and support during the worst of times. Here are a few tales of grit and unsung heroes.

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Ted Robertson calls it a "frightening margin of time."

He was working downtown at his media management firm, RCN Group, on Tuesday when a friend called him about the smoke coming from the Black Forest. The plume wasn't very large, but something was going on.

The friend, Jeff Beauprez met Robertson and his wife, Teresa, at their home sometime after 2:30 p.m. Robertson's brother-in-law, Rob Urban, just happened to be passing their house and stopped to help, too. Together, they packed the couple's antique art pottery, family photos, paintings, important papers and Malcolm, their 14-year-old orange Tabby.

"Unbeknownst to us, the wind changed direction and was moving directly toward our neighborhood, Robertson said.

A highway patrolman showed up at the door about 3:30 p.m. and told them they had 10 minutes to get out.

"The plume was suddenly over our house and ashes were falling," Robertson said.

They left their home of 22 years and quickly headed north out of the treeline. They stopped by the side of the road and watched the fire race through their neighborhood.

"If we had lingered, we would not have gotten out," he said. "I've seen the house. Nothing is left but the chimney and a burned-out shell of our garden truck."

The one thing he didn't get before leaving was the name of the patrolman.

"I would love to know who he was so we could write and thank him. He put his own life at risk to tell us our lives were at risk."

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Lauren Witt, who lives in the Pine Creek neighborhood, saw the smoke before it was reported on the news. It seemed to be near a barn where she keeps her horse, Willow.

She grabbed her kids - ages 12, 9, 7, and 1 - and arrived at the barn at Shoup and Milam roads, where she saw a young girl running across the field with a horse. She told them her yard was on fire.

Witt panicked, because she doesn't have a horse trailer, but trainer Larry Killiam, who runs Horsegate Ministries, had a double trailer and said he'd take both hoses.

"Sometimes horses don't load well together, but he put Willow in with the other horse," Witt said. "There was a lot of squealing but he got them in and took off. " He moved them to his own home east of Meridian Road, took apart his horse pen to create two for the horses, and gave them hay and water.

But later that evening, Killiam's neighborhood was evacuated. Once again, he loaded the two horses into the trailer and took them to Flying W Ranch, which was heavily damaged in the Waldo Canyon fire, but had corrals that were being opened to Black Forest fire evacuees.

In transporting Witt's horse and the other animal, Killiam had left his own horses in his pasture. When he returned home, trailers were lined up along the roads to help other horse owners. Someone else had taken his to Flying W.

"It gives me the chills how he was saving our horses while his were in danger, and someone else saved his, and how Flying W was paying it forward," Witt said.

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A lot of people have been asking: How is Charlotte holding up?

Charlotte Figi is the 6-year-old featured last week in a Gazette story that chronicled how a special strain of medical marijuana had tamed the dozens of seizures she was having every day because of an incurable genetic disorder. But she still has many developmental problems, although the marijuana has restored her ability to walk, eat and even drink.

Charlotte and her family live in Black Forest, but weren't initially in a mandatory evacuation zone. Still, shortly after the fire broke out, the family voluntarily evacuated out of respiratory concerns for Charlotte, said her mom, Paige Figi.

They left with only the bare essentials, including oxygen and medications for Charlotte.

"Hotels are really full with reservations and we have had to move three times," Paige said. And she had to pay extra for the kids, even though they could sleep in one bed.

"It's been hard because Charlotte likes a steady routine," Paige said.

The hotel rooms didn't have refrigerators, so Paige had to fill an ice cooler around the clock to keep Charlotte's medicines cool. And eating out has been a challenge because of her food allergies.

"I want it to be fun for them. They like the pool, " Paige said.

Several of their pets were temporarily farmed out, including a gecko, Vexen, that became the Gazette newsroom mascot.

But Vexen left on Friday; the Figis were allowed back in their home.

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Anyone have grass hay? The request went out Friday afternoon from the horse evacuation site at Norris-Penrose Event Center, temporary home to 100 displaced horses.

A generous donation of alfalfa hay had come in early on, but it turns out that a number of the evacuees are pasture horses who weren't used to grazing on alfalfa.

The plea went out on gazette.com, and the phone rang. A woman from Montana was driving to Black Forest because her trailer, with melted tires, was the only thing remaining on a friend's land. Maybe she could try to find some grass hay because Montana is green this spring.

Then Rob from Littleton called. Norris-Penrose was closed for the evening so he tried The Gazette. He has a home in Colorado Springs that he rents out, and he was coming down with a car hauler this weekend. Why bring it down empty? He put out a call to the Jefferson County riding group, The Westernaires. Grass hay is a rare commodity because of the drought and the fires, but they're all checking for bales of grass hay to pile onto his trailer for the trip to the Norris-Penrose horses. Rob's been put in touch with Julie Woods, who runs the command center at that site's Community Animal Response Team. Update to come.

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