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Man who lost home, dogs in Black Forest fire is given German shepherd

June 29, 2013 Updated: June 29, 2013 at 5:18 pm
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photo - Darrell Fortner, left , hugs Basil, a 11-month old German shepherd who is donated by Linda Smith, owner of Vom Dortmunder German Shepherds, near the Red Cross tent in Black Forest, Saturday, June 29, 2013.   Photo by Junfu Han. The Gazette.
Darrell Fortner, left , hugs Basil, a 11-month old German shepherd who is donated by Linda Smith, owner of Vom Dortmunder German Shepherds, near the Red Cross tent in Black Forest, Saturday, June 29, 2013. Photo by Junfu Han. The Gazette. 

Darrell Fortner lost his dogs to the Black Forest fire.

On Saturday, he got one back.

A group of soldiers led by Chief Warrant Officer II Brennan Avants from Fort Carson, The American Red Cross and Black Forest Animal Sanctuary joined forces to find a German shepherd to help replace the dogs buried by Denver firefighters who were battling the wildfire.

The Black Forest fire destroyed more than 500 structures and consumed 14,280 acres.

Reminders of the recovery were everywhere Saturday.

Trucks hauling heavy machinery trundled through the intersection of Shoup and Black Forest roads about 2 p.m.

Pickups pulling trailers loaded with branches filled up at the Phillips 66.

At the American Red Cross tent on one corner, a presentation took place when Linda Smith, owner of Vom Dortmunder German Shepherds in Florissant, unloaded the four-legged gift.

The 11-month-old purebred German shepherd named Basil was presented to Fortner.

Fortner hugged Smith, who broke down during the presentation.

"It's really an honor," Smith said. "I could not imagine losing my dogs like that. They are my family."

After hugging Avants, Fortner said simply: "Look at her. She's beautiful."

Avants got the idea to help Fortner after he and 13 other soldiers from Fort Carson volunteered to distribute bulk goods to fire survivors from the Red Cross tent.

Fortner was among those who stopped in. He'd lost the dogs, his home and belongings.

"I was already familiar with the story," Avants said. "Darrell ended up being a frequent presence at our site and we wanted to do something for him. We got the idea of getting him a German shepherd to replace his loss and help in his recovery process."

There was a personal element to the mission. Avants' family has two dogs.

"That plays into the emotional aspect of it," he said. "They are definitely members of the family."

Avants learned about the Black Forest Animal Sanctuary and asked them for help. They found Smith, who was happy to donate Basil.

"It's a very touching story, it really is," Avants said. "It shows how the Fort Carson and military presence in the area is huge and it's one of those things where we can help and give back to the community."

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