Friday, July 06, 2012

My Last 2 Weeks

Life hasn't exactly been normal around here.

The story begins on Saturday, June 23rd, 2012. Honey and I went out to run errands and noticed smoke over in the mountains above Garden of the Gods around the middle of the day. It started out as very black and we initially thought that maybe a car on Hwy 24 (Ute Pass) had caught fire or something. Throughout the afternoon, while we ran errands, it got whiter and bigger. By the time we got home, the plume had gotten quite large. We turned on the TV and heard that there were evacuations in place. By late afternoon they had mandatory evacuations starting about a mile south of our home all the way down to Old Colorado City. Our area was under voluntary evacuation.

Due to how confusing the evacuation press conference was, it wasn't clear for about an hour if we were part of the mandatory area or voluntary. We decided to go ahead and evacuate to my parent's home that evening. We gathered the cat, clothing for 3 days, the laundry, some mementos and other things dear to us, and important stuff like our computers, the bills, etc.

Later that evening we figured out that we were in the voluntary evac area, but decided to stay where we were at. Sunday, the 24th, we returned to our house, cleared out food from the fridge, grabbed more clothes and a few other things. Monday evening Honey decided to go back to the house and stayed the night there. He worked from home Tuesday the 26th since his work was in the mandatory evacuation area. Later in the afternoon he took another load of things out since the fire was getting closer on the other side of the ridge. He went straight back and got home just as the fire came down and over going 65 miles an hour. He quickly loaded a few more things, checked to be sure that our neighbor's wife had gotten home to collect her husband all right, and left. He just missed the traffic jam out of our area.

Meanwhile, I was standing outside work watching the flames rapidly descending the mountainside toward our neighborhood. That's something I will never forget. There is a large quarry right above our neighborhood and I realized that it might be the only way our house could survive. Honey called and asked me to head to Mom and Dad's house right away. 15 minutes later the whole city was engulfed in thick black smoke and stayed that way for about 30-45 minutes. It very got difficult to breathe.

The flames were diverted by the quarry like a rock in a river. They went primarily to the south side and right into a very highly populated area called Mountain Shadows. A small piece was diverted to the north.

The southern diversion is the most tragic. Many aerial photos have been posted on-line by the Denver Post and others that show that area. It is startling and amazing to see both the devastation of what was destroyed and the miracle of what was saved. Those fire fighters worked with super human strength, intelligence, and determination to save anything that could be saved. And I am thankful to them beyond words.

We could find no formal confirmation in the form of photos that our house was okay, but we had a lot of hope from many sources. The first came from Dad. He has been volunteering with the Sheriff's office and checked where the fires were at. He confirmed that our neighborhood was safe. Wednesday morning the updated maps of the fire were posted and that also indicated that our neighborhood was untouched. Also, no news was good news. The photos and videos that surfaced focused on the homes that burned. No one was talking about our neighborhood. And finally, a neighbor up the hill from us checked on his air conditioning and found it still working. Apparently he had just installed a new one and he can control it remotely from his phone. It struck him to check and when it told him that the temperature was 72 degrees in his house (meaning the WiFi is working and the house is still there) he turned it off. No need to cool an empty house.

So we waited. There were still fires and hotspots to worry about. But we got a little rain, it wasn't as windy, and was a little less hot. That seemed to help. Later the fire shifted in the other direction so that the city of Woodland Park was added to the evacuations of western Colorado Springs, Ute Pass towns of Green Mountain Falls, Cascade, Chipita Park, and the northern towns of Monument and Palmer Lake.

I ran out of adrenalin Thursday evening, the 28th, and kept going purely out of stubbornness. Maybe the list was what deflated me. The list of streets with homes lost was posted that day and our street wasn't on it. That made it official that we still had a house.

Sunday, the 30th, we were given permission to return to our home to stay. Not knowing what to expect, we bought a bunch of baking soda products to help deodorize the house. I just naturally assumed everything would smell like smoke.

We pulled into our neighborhood a little before 8pm and it was rather surreal. It was so normal. Our neighborhood is hemmed in on all sides. Ridges running off the mountain to the north and south, the mountain on the west, and a bluff on the east. From our house, you couldn't see the devastation on the southern ridge. So the one indicator of a fire were the charred sticks on the mountain above the quarry.

There was all this turmoil of emotions and stress I was dealing with inside and it just didn't match what we saw.

The house was just as we left it...messy. The winter clothes that I was going to put away were still on the couch. The weeds in the yard kept growing even though we've had little to no moisture. The kitchen was still dirty from day we left. The bed was still unfixed. There was no hot water yet. They were going to go around to turn on the gas and light each pilot light Monday afternoon, but they didn't make it to our house before Honey had to leave.

Tuesday night we visited home and began doing some of the chores left undone. When I returned to Mom and Dad's house and went to bed, I quickly drew what I kept trying to sort out in my mind.

I drew our house down in the corner, small with bright green trees surrounding it, untouched and pristine. Above it rages the fire with the quarry overshadowing and protecting my home. In my mind I kept seeing the flames and then our green, beautiful neighborhood. In the drawing I was able to put those thoughts together in a way that made sense.

We returned Wednesday, July 4th, to continue cleaning and getting the smoke smell out of the carpet. That evening we went to the Waldo Canyon Fire Benefit Concert with Mom and Dad. They offered free tickets online and I decided we needed something fun to do. The Flying W Wranglers, Michael Martin Murphy, the Philharmonic, Isaac Slade, and Flash Cadillac performed. The rather astonishing thing about it is that the sponsors are....drum roll please....Focus on the Family and The Independent. Those two organizations are about as far apart as you can get on just about every level. Amazing what happens when crisis strikes. When it was over we were amazingly relaxed and refreshed. And we had been told that the fire was 100% contained in Colorado Springs and 90% contained in the county.

I woke up more refreshed on Thursday morning than I had since we had evacuated. And now it's Friday, July 6th, and we're going home to stay tonight. Mercifully, we still have one when so many others don't.

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