Thursday, July 19, 2012

3 Weeks After the Fire

Tuesday (July 17th) was the 3 week anniversary for the day that the Waldo Canyon Fire jumped Queens Canyon and came down the mountain to the northwest side of Colorado Springs.

Tuesday was also the day I went with my coworkers to work as a volunteer with Samaritan's Purse to sift through the ashes of our friend's home. We arrived at the designated meeting point at 7:30 a.m. to fill out paperwork, get instructed, and receive our t-shirts. From there we drove to a second meeting point. There we were given more instructions and carpooled up the hill to where our friend's home is.

When we got there I took a few photos of what I saw around me. Mostly it looked like this one. Grey foundations filled with ashes, rubble, and rusted metal. At first that was all you could see, then we started seeing what some of that stuff actually used to be. Cars in garages, a vending machine, washers, driers, stoves, pipes...

We were given tyvec suits and face masks to wear since the fire reached temperatures of between 2000 and 2700 degrees in these homes. That kind of heat can change chemical compositions and make things that used to be harmless into things that are toxic.

These two photos are from the Samaritan's Purse Facebook page.

Our friend wanted to find 2 things in particular. Her cast iron skillet and her mother's wedding rings. So since the kitchen had been above the basement, a group went down there and shifted the rubble of a bedroom that had been above the kitchen. They found quite a bit down there including the cast iron skillet, a filing cabinet with papers still in it, a Bible, a cookbook, and a lot of porcelain both broken and intact. The rest of us looked for the wedding rings. The bedroom had been on the second floor above the bathroom and mudroom. So we sifted through that and found fingernail polish bottles, some shells (intact) that had been decoration in the bathroom, a pile of tiles over what had been the bathtub, buttons, zippers, and scraps of cloth from a closet, some costume jewelry, and finally the wedding rings. They were still in the jeweler's box and were covered in ashes. But when the ashes were brushed away, both rings were there with minimal damage.

Sifting through ashes is probably a lot like how they do archaeology. A person with a shovel very gently gathers a pile and puts it in a wood frame with a mesh bottom. Two people agitate the frame to get the ash to fall into the bucket or wheelbarrow then look through the rubble that is left for anything that might be an object that survived. When you're done, you dump the rubble into the bucket with the ash and begin with a fresh batch from the shovel.

I only did a half day. It's hard work and I knew I wouldn't have the physical stamina to go all day. I went home after eating lunch with the others at the second meeting place and took a nap. I was wiped out physically and emotionally.

I'm still tired. I'm still not sleeping as well as I need to. Last night I couldn't get to sleep for awhile again. Then I woke up at 6 a.m. this morning smelling smoke. It was only the remnant smell of the burned areas around our neighborhood, but the instincts don't register it that way. I got up and turned the fan off and it smelled like home again, but I couldn't go back to sleep.

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