An Evacuee

Day1SmokePlume

Day 1 – Black Forest Fire

This is the picture I took of the view from our backyard with my iPhone on Tuesday afternoon, June 11, 2013. Day 1 of the Black Forest Fire.  I never thought, in all the places I have lived, that I would ever find myself an evacuee. Never underestimate the power of destruction that will quickly remove any control you may have in your life.

A little after 3:00 PM on that Tuesday, word started to circulate in our office that there was a fire in the area of Shoup Road and Highway 83.  We knew that area all too well, large homes mixed with the quirky, eccentric ones of the Black Forest and it was heavily treed with large Ponderosa Pines. An extremely appetizing mix for a Colorado wildfire on a dry, windy and hot June day.

I looked out the south-facing windows of our office to see if I could get any glimpse of what might be happening and saw nothing.  My husband and I live quite a ways north of this location, but when a wildfire starts, any distance becomes fairly meaningless with its all consuming speed.

The buzz in the office about the fire heightened my anxiety, even though we live in what is known as the prairie section of the Black Forest.  The only trees we have are those we planted.  We felt fairly safe.  Yet, we decided to leave work a bit early just in case…..

As we left the office we saw a massive wall of churning smoke.  Shades of grey and I don’t mean the novel.  The looming, menacing smoke monster signaled this was no ordinary wildfire…if there is such a thing …. and we were heading right for it for a short period.  We took the back roads to get to our home.  One route was already closed and my heart started to sink.  We have three basset hounds at home and I just wanted to get to them and we did.

My friend, Cara, sent me the first text, “Are you ok?”  I sent back a text saying yes, with this picture.  The next thing I knew, she sent a text she had room for all five of us…yes that’s right, Dan, me and our three basset hounds!  Now that’s friendship and then some.  I told her I thought we would be ok and thanked her.  We went about our normal routine, had supper, all the while watching what looked like dragon’s breath to the south of us.  The scene unfolding on the television showed massive homes consumed in 20 minutes or less by the flames.  Later we heard temperatures reached 2500 degrees.   Too eerie, too much a reminder of the destruction caused by the Waldo Canyon fire from a year ago.  I kept wondering if I should start packing some things and Dan said we would be fine that night as long as we didn’t lose power.  You guessed it, we lost power around 7:30 PM.

It was still daylight when the power went off so we managed to see ok aided by the use of an occasional flash light to gather some things.  The pressure we felt was that the sun was setting and light was fading.  In spite of all of that, we did a remarkable job of gathering what we would need for us and the dogs.   Off to Cara’s we went with our two cars packed, loaded with a mix of supplies, personal belongings and the bassets, of course.  Within 24 hours we discovered this trip was a dry run for what would happen the next day.

The mandatory evacuation line was 1.7 miles south of our house.  Wednesday morning, we thanked Cara and Ham for their hospitality, piled everything back in the cars and headed home.  We still had no power at the house, but we wanted to keep the dogs at the house because we thought once power was restored, we would still be staying home.  We went into our office as that was the easiest location to get information, since we had no power and no cell phone service at the house.  Our boss and co-workers told us we really needed to be at our house because of its proximity to the mandatory evacuation area.  We were a bit perplexed, but decided that was a good plan in case we were evacuated.  Note:  in these situations, you may not be thinking clearly….I don’t think we were and it was a true blessing others had already started to look out for us.  Power was restored that morning and we went home.  We were able to work remotely and kept an eye on the news.

Thank goodness I didn’t unpack.  Shortly after 2:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon, the winds shifted.  We knew that was bad, very bad.  The reporter on the television said that those areas north of the mandatory evacuation line should be prepared to be listed in the next pre-evacuation area.  Just as he uttered those words, we were in mandatory evacuation, not pre-evac.  Dan & I flew around the house.  We gathered everything that was packed from the night before…added a few things we had forgotten and this time grabbed our fire safe with important documents.  The reverse 911 call came…time to get out and we did.

After last year’s Waldo Canyon fire, we had the discussion of what would we take if we were ever evacuated.  Time and time again, the answer was the same.  As long as we were together and had our basset hounds, nothing else mattered.  It was just stuff.  And that’s how it was when we were evacuated.  We had each other and our dogs, plus enough clothes to get by for a given number of days.  Not much else really mattered. As I walked through the house for what could have been the last time, I looked at some things in various rooms and shrugged my shoulders.  Sure we would miss some items if they were gone.  What really was important to us was our safety, being with each other and our bassets.

Cara and Ham once again opened their home and their hearts to us.  For the next 5 days we were evacuees.  I cannot tell you how overwhelmed we were by the kindness, concern and generosity we experienced from friends and strangers alike.  Calls, emails, Facebook inquiries about how we were doing.  Offers of help….was there anything we needed.   One day we had lunch at Appelbee’s and the table next to us heard we had been evacuated….they bought our lunch.  Our lives were turned completely upside down.  It was all outside of our control.  We have been forever changed by this experience.  The fire fighters, first responders, county officials and law enforcement did an outstanding job.  What a wonderful community we live in.

The human spirit at its finest was exhibited in stellar fashion.

Word came late on Sunday evening, June 16, that we could return to our home.  It was still standing, untouched by any of this.  Yet at the end of this saga, 509 homes had been destroyed and 2 people had lost their lives.  As a testament to those 2 who perished, they were not trying to gather material possessions as they stayed behind a bit too long….no….they were gathering munitions that would have exploded and harmed first responders and fire fighters.  They gave their lives so others would not be harmed.  They left behind a son, who is serving in Afghanistan.  Theirs is just one of the many heart warming and heart breaking stories that took place over the life of this fire.

We came back to our home on Monday morning, June 17th and were greeted by these beautiful yellow Irises, blooming, beaming, welcoming us back to the safety of our home.  It was at that point, after I took this picture, that it all started to sink in and I began to cry.  Tears of relief, thanks and heartache for those who lost so much.

YellowIrises

Many times we do not know how we will react to a situation.  I certainly did not know.  As a result of this, I have grown and I know I am a better person, with more to offer friends, family and strangers.  There has been a real recovery period for me too.  I’m not sure what I was experiencing, but I just felt shut down, not like me, raw.  This morning, 6 days after we returned home, I feel like myself again.  My energy levels feel restored.

My wish for all of you is that you never have to experience anything like this or worse.  If tragedy does strike, know that you are stronger than you may realize and your friends, family and community will be there for you.

If you would like to see some video Dan took that Tuesday afternoon, click here.

Namaste.