Fifth-grader's Black Forest fire experience shared in book one year later

June 11, 2014 Updated: June 11, 2014 at 8:40 am
photo - Tom Smith works to remove tree limbs to protect a friend's home from advancing flames Wednesday, June 12, 2013 near Burgess Road and Armonia Ranch Ct. in Black Forest. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Tom Smith works to remove tree limbs to protect a friend's home from advancing flames Wednesday, June 12, 2013 near Burgess Road and Armonia Ranch Ct. in Black Forest. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

"Now just to warn you, this story is sad," 11-year-old Aspyn Metzger writes in the beginning of her book, "The Time I Saw a Fire."

"The fire burned down my heart like it burned down our house," she continues.

In her own words and drawings, Aspyn tells her experience of the Black Forest fire and the loss of her second home, which for 47 years had belonged to her grandparents, Bob and Bobbie Metzger.

"The house to us meant so much that I had to write about it," Aspyn said Tuesday, the day before the one-year anniversary of the start of the fire.

The place where Aspyn took her first steps as a baby, lived for two years and then spent the night once a week was one of 488 homes destroyed in the fire.

"I have been here so much. I walked here on my grandma's birthday. I've seen my first Christmas here. We were here for all the holidays," she said.

The Metzgers, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, moved into a newly-built home on the same plot of land last month.

Losing a home in a wildfire takes away more than possessions, Bobbie Metzger said.

"I've got this nice, clean, beautiful home but nothing of ours, nothing of our history," she said, tearing up.

"This book can be your history for now," Aspyn said, patting her grandma's hand.

Aspyn wrote the book as part of a fifth-grade assignment this past school year at Edison Elementary in Colorado Springs School District 11. Students could write about any topic. But they had to come up with the words, type the manuscript and illustrate it.

Aspyn was the only one who wrote about the fire. She was in the forest on June 11, 2013, when the fire started.

She was with two girlfriends and her grandmother at a neighbor's house. The TV was on, and a reporter was talking about a fire in Ca?n City. The girls went outside to play and said they could seek the smoke from the Ca?n City fire.

"I said it's too far away," Bobbie Metzger said. "Then, I looked out the window and saw what looked like a huge fire, but I couldn't tell where it was. I called 911. The operator said, 'We don't have any reports of a fire.' That was at 1:15 p.m."

The fire was close. Bob Metzger had about half an hour before being evacuated to grab important papers, some photos and videos, and a few collectibles from their home.

Bobbie Metzger sighed and shook her head. "We walked out that day thinking we'd be right back."

Aspyn found out about the fate of grandparents' house five days later, during a family meeting.

Everyone cried when they heard the news.

Aspyn helped her grandparents sift through the ashes, looking for anything that hadn't burned, which she talks about in her book.

"I didn't find any of my toys," she said. Two porcelain angels that were hanging on a wall in her bedroom survived, along with pieces of other figurines.

The students' books were printed in hardback. Aspyn read hers to some of her friends, and some of her teachers also read it.

"Some people were bawling their eyes out," Aspyn said.

Writing the book helped her share what she was going through.

"It was making me feel better that people knew," she said. "People said they felt bad for me and my family. I told them not to feel bad. It happened, and it's getting better. It's not all tears all the time anymore."

Aspyn dedicated the 12-page book to her grandparents and gave it to them as a present in May, on her grandma's birthday. This year, that happened to fall in the week they moved into their new house.

"I've read it cover to cover many times," Bobbie Metzger said. "Bob has yet to get through it. It's just too hard."

While Aspyn acknowledges in her book that the fire is still sad for her to think about and always will be, the most important part is this: "I'm just glad I didn't lose my grandma and grandpa," she writes at the end. "I love them so much."

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