Published: August 1, 2013
Even if she wanted to, 60-year-old Joy Barrett can never live on her property off Canon Avenue in Manitou Springs again.
When a blast of water and mud came rushing down Williams Canyon on July 1 - during what officials say was a 25-year flood event - it washed away Barrett's livelihood and destroyed her modest 99-year-old yellow home. The Pikes Peak Regional Building Department has ruled that no structure can be rebuilt there - it's far too dangerous.
"What I want more than anything is just to get everything out of here and walk away from it," Barrett said, sitting in front of her home Thursday.
It's sad but true that a little more than a year after the Waldo Canyon fire didn't scorch Manitou Springs, the extended reach of the blaze still managed to destroy a home.
Unlike victims of the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, and others whose homes were destroyed in last month's flood, Barrett doesn't have many options. There are no scorched trees to rebuild around, just questions and confusion, as if she needed more struggles.
In April, Barrett, a lifelong resident of El Paso County, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a month before the flood, she underwent two major surgeries.
"When it rains, it floods," she said.
Yet Barrett is hopeful, insisting that she wants no pity and that things could be much worse.
The day of the storm, Barrett, who works for a local catering company, was on her way home from an oncologist appointment when a neighbor called and told her to go elsewhere. She stayed the night at a friend's house before returning to a horrific site.
Her home of four years, and the only one she owned, had stood at the end of a virtual funnel, taking the brunt of the blow as a flash flood poured out of the mouth of the canyon.
After the Waldo Canyon fire burned more than 18,000 acres, killed two people and destroyed 347 homes, the region braced for its first major flash flood event. On July 1, everyone's worst fears came to fruition.
In 20 minutes, a fast-moving thunderstorm dropped roughly six-tenths of an inch on the Waldo Canyon burn scar, sending a black wave of burned debris down Williams Canyon and onto the 600 block of Canon Avenue. There, Barrett's home stood at ground zero as the first obstacle in a flood plain that drained into Fountain Creek.
Twenty homes were damaged - roughly seven seriously - leaving the tight-knit community in northwest Manitou with a debris field.
Caked in mud 111 inches high after a surge of debris breached her windows and front door, Barrett's living room floor looked more like the ground in the Waldo Canyon burn scar than a house.
"It was my very first house," Barrett said. "It was my dream. It was perfect. It was everything I've ever wanted."
Days after the flood, Barrett found out that she wouldn't be able or allowed to rebuild, though she now says trying to rise from the mud would be "insane."
"The hit that my house took saved a lot of property down there," Barrett said of the properties southeast of hers. "If they build another house here, it's just going to happen again. That's what everyone has decided - that this is not the last time this is going to happen because that burn area is not going to be revegetated for a really long time."
She is now working with her insurers as she tries to recover whatever compensation she can. Plans to demolish the residence, a roughly $25,000 expense, were recently delayed further while Barrett waits for the return of asbestos tests, which threaten to make cleanup more expensive.
"This has been an ongoing learning experience," she said. "I had the full coverage for my house. However, as you see a lot of times with things like this, it doesn't seem to be coming up to that."
The city of Manitou Springs is working to help Barrett and negotiating a plan to buy her property and restore the land as some kind of tool for flood mitigation.
"In Joy's case, it's our intent to try and create a win-win situation," said Curt Heimsoth, chairman of the Manitou Springs Flood Coalition, which works with the local government and federal agencies to assist potential and impacted flood victims. "It's the city's intent to help alleviate the situation and try to make it (the property) into a flood plain with the road."
Barrett will continue living at a friend's home on the west side of Colorado Springs until she finds a new home - hopefully in Manitou, she said.
"As bad as this is, I'm still a lot better off than other people," she said. "There are people in a lot worse situations than me."
Contact Jesse Paul at 636-0253. Twitter: @JesseAPaul