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Gazette Premium Content Prayers unite neighbors a year after Black Forest fire

2 photos photo - Amanda Davis and a resident who worked with Mark Herkoltz release doves after a prayer for Black Forest fire victims outside of the Black Forest Log School Park to mark the fire's anniversary and to remember Mark and Robin Herklotz who died in the fire Sunday, June 8, 2014. Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette + caption
Amanda Davis and a resident who worked with Mark Herkoltz release doves after a prayer for Black Forest fire victims outside of the Black Forest Log School Park to mark the fire's anniversary and to remember Mark and Robin Herklotz who died in the fire Sunday, June 8, 2014. Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette
by EMILY DONOVAN emily.donovan@gazette.com - Published: June 8, 2014

Two doves circled overhead in gray skies above dark ponderosa pine trees. In T-shirts, work boots, rain jackets and hand-knitted prayer shawls, Black Forest residents clapped and held back tears.

"Now you're going to make me cry," said Diane Apodaca, who has lived in Black Forest for 35 years.

About 50 people from the Black Forest area gathered to pray together Sunday over two deaths, 488 destroyed homes, and 14,280 blackened acres lost in last year's fire and the revival that has followed. Where they stood at the Black Forest Log School Park at 6770 Shoup Road, was the heart of downtown until the fire began June 11.

"We've made it," said Amanda Davis, the director of Black Forest Colorado Crosses for Losses who coordinated the prayer service.

The doves, released at the end of a group prayer, honored the deaths of Marc and Robin Herklotz during the blaze. Davis chose white doves because they represent peace.

"Peaceful is good," she said. "We need peace."

Vicki Contreras, whose mobile home burned in last year's fire, wiped away tears and hugged her neighbor. She said the community prayer helped show that people in Black Forest aren't alone.

"It shows that we're still strong," Contreras said. "We're still determined to get our community back together."

Before the prayer, Davis thanked everyone at the gathering. She said the event wasn't a religious thing but a spiritual thing.

"I'm a Christian and I'm going to pray in Jesus' name, and I invite you to pray however you pray," said the Rev. Scotty Vaughn before leading the service.

Each of the 25 prayer shawls distributed were prayed over as volunteer women knitted or crocheted them.

After the service, Pam Bardwell grabbed a neighbor's shoulder and smiled.

"I made that one," Bardwell said, nodding at the tan shawl draped around her neighbor's shoulders.

Bardwell said prayer shawls are comforting. In her experience, she can feel the prayer when she puts a prayer shawl on.

It feels warm and peaceful.

When Lin Rozak first got back home after the fire, she saw an undamaged bird house on a partially burned tree. Watching a mother bird feed its babies, she thought, "I got to stay. I just got to stay."

To Rozak, Black Forest smells like home: pine, sap, livestock and fresh air. But it's the people that really make the forest her home, she said.

Sometimes, the destruction feels overwhelming, Contreras said. But when she sees her neighbors rebuilding, she feels like she belongs.

"Now I have a whole new group of friends that share my life," Contreras said. "We'll get through this."

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