The mood was light as attendees enjoyed hot dogs, cold drinks and a tractor pull during the fourth annual Hanover Days on Sunday.
The festivities belied the recent hardships residents in the area experienced in mid-April, when the 117 fire scorched 42,000 acres in the Hanover area, destroying 18 homes and causing $1.3 million in losses, El Paso County officials said.
Soon after the blaze erupted, residents began helping each other. They offered to put up displaced neighbors places to sleep, help building fences, picking up debris and caring for pets, in addition to a community yard sale and auction in late May with proceeds going to the Hanover Fire Department.
Hanover Days helped with moving forward.
The two-day free festival started four years ago to bring life to a mostly desert area about 30 miles southeast of Colorado Springs. It's a tiny ranching community that features a high school, church and a volunteer fire department.
The festival was once again held at Kirk Hanna Park, named after a cattle rancher and featured personality in the 2001 bestseller "Fast Food Nation." He died in 1998.
Hanover Days organizers acknowledged that the event took on more importance after the fire, even if it was simply a reason for residents to get together. Organizers lowered the fee paid by vendors, who were encouraged to offer their products at a cheaper price.
"This is an important event, especially this year, to bring out a lot of people who were dealt a raw deal," said Ann Hanna, president of Hanover Community Parks and Projects Inc. and Kirk's widow. "We want to see them. We want to talk to them. We want to give them hugs."
The fire - the county's largest - resulted in no deaths, but it destroyed homes and 21 structures, including barns, sheds and other buildings, county officials said.
Gazette news partner KKTV reported that a car dragging its muffler on Interstate 25 likely sparked the fire near mile marker 117, but county officials have said the investigation is not complete.
The fire was only brought up at Hanover Days if someone asked about it. Otherwise, Hanover Days attendees were focused on catching up.
The festival held a church service Sunday morning, led by pastor Pastor Ragan Simpich of the Hanover Community Church. He said that he noticed more and more residents were coming to his church after the 117 fire.
"The community has grown together," he said. "A negative, terrible thing turned out for good. Don't get me wrong. It's still hard on people. There are people missing their house. But they're rebuilding, little by little."