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Stories of heroism, compassion from the Black Forest fire near Colorado Springs

June 20, 2013 Updated: June 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Sheriff Terry Maketa told a story about a patrol car almost getting burned in the Black Forest fire because it symbolizes the heroism of deputies, police officers and firefighters.

"They have been consumed and put their lives at risk because they couldn't live with the fact they left a citizen behind," he said.

This particular story involved deputies Kevin Tedesco, Jeremy Juhn and Reserve Sgt. Greg Maxwell.

The three were responding in the initial Black Forest fire storm to a call that an 85-year-old disabled woman was stranded. When they got to the house they parked one patrol car on one side of the driveway, and the other on another road and turned on the lights so they could find their way back in the smoke.

A portion of the driveway was blocked by flames. Choking on smoke, they ran through the woods, kicked in the door and searched the house. The woman was not there.

They ran back to their vehicles, one of which was surrounded by flames. A deputy managed to get in the car, and charcoal embers melted through his uniform pant legs and melted holes into the patrol car seat.

"He said he was sorry. I'm fine with that. It just touched my heart how they took the risk because of someone's grandmother," Maketa said.

A wedding saved

From wedding bells to fire alarms to school bells.

That's the story of the big day for Stephanie Hill and James Slusser.

They were supposed to get married in a church in Black Forest last Saturday. But when the fire began to rage on June 11, they knew that was impossible.

"It was, now what do we do?" said Hill, who is a special education teacher at Skyview Middle School. There wouldn't have been a charge at the church they had first chosen because a friend who was a member of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints in Black Forest had arranged the wedding there. Another venue would be expensive: at least $25 per person at a hotel; another church where they would have to rent chairs, or possibly a park, where they would have to rent and bring in everything.

"We didn't have a lot of money. It isn't the first marriage for either of us. We just wanted it to be a symbolic enjoyable event," Hill said. The two had met at Doherty High School where both were in band. They caught up with each other not long ago on Facebook. James is a sales representative these days.

The church had not burned, but was in the evacuation area.

In the midst of their worries, Cathy Tinucci, principal at Skyview, called Hill to offer the school cafeteria as the wedding site.

It was perfect, actually. Hill had been an employee of Falcon School District 49 since 1993, and Skyview since 2001 when it opened. "It's been my home since I was 24 years old."

Several parents, staff and friends rented an archway and pillars, got some artificial pine trees with white lights to mimic the Black Forest and the wedding went off on Saturday in the school cafeteria.

"It was wonderful," said Hill, who is now Stephanie Slusser.

Firefighters unveiled

A vignette in Thursday's Gazette told of unnamed firefighters who came across four dogs that perished in the Black Forest fire and compassionately buried them, complete with individual memorial of stones circling their graves.

The firefighters are from Denver Fire Department Truck 16.

Firefighter Nicholas Cumings said that they were putting out hot spots when they found the German shepherds. "I don't have dogs, but I have three children, and I wouldn't want my family to see that."

Another firefighter, Josh Thompson, said that the dogs "must have been pretty scared and were happy to be huddled together." Thompson added, "We decided to do something that would respect the owners and the animals. The unusual thing about it, if you were a fly on the wall, is to see six firemen walking around trying to find the most beautiful place we could for their resting place."

The dogs were buried at the top of a rise near aspen trees.

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