Last Saturday I met my daughter in Woodland Park for lunch. As she was driving up the pass through Colorado Springs from Denver she called and told me cars were backed up and there were fire trucks everywhere. Moments earlier I had witnessed a huge plume of smoke rising out of Waldo Canyon and I told her I thought we had another fire. The going was slow but she eventually made it through the mountain pass.
We sleep with our windows open in the mountains and when we woke on Sunday morning the house smelt of smoke. We went to church and towards the close of the service our pastor received a reverse 911 call to evacuate his home immediately. His home bordered the western side of the fire. By the time we got back to our house the air was so dense with smoke that we had to shut all the windows in our house despite the high temperatures outside, a record heat wave for us. That afternoon the pass was closed and all the little towns along it had been evacuated.
All day Monday we watched in horror as the size of the fire doubled within a few short hours. The news coverage was 24/7 and we were glued to the television waiting to hear that the fire was under control. It was far from being controlled as we would soon see. My daughter called her hospital in Denver and told them she was staying with us, we were glad.
On Tuesday we decided to go ahead with plans to see a baseball game in Denver. We also wanted to make sure our daughter got home safely. We had to take a back mountain road to get to Denver since the pass was closed. As we headed towards Woodland Park we were stunned. The plumes of smoke were much larger than we had anticipated.
We sit two thousand feet above Colorado Springs so the horizon in the above photograph is actually the beginning of the mountain pass, descending down into Colorado Springs. These photos were taken with my phone and do not give justice to the actual scene set before us. It was the kind of scene that makes one suck in their breath at the sheer power of natural destruction. We were able to see why Woodland Park was under pre-evacuation.
As we headed north to Denver on a road which ran along the backside of the Front Range we were reminded of how destructive a forest fire can be. Twenty five miles of fire damage from the Haymen fire stretched before us reminding us of what a forest fire leaves behind. It has been ten years since the Haymen and the area is still desolate with very little vegetation growth.
At the Rockies game that night we still could not get our mind off the fire and kept checking our phones periodically for live updates. Of course, it did not help that a fire had just started in Boulder and we had a clear view of it in the infield. I was beginning to feel like there was no escape and there were fires in every direction.
In the third inning my daughter received a phone call from a friend who had been evacuated letting her know that her neighborhood and the entire mountain was on fire. With winds at 65 miles an hour the fire had swept like a tidal wave over a ridge and down the mountainside into Colorado Springs, an unprecedented firefighting disaster. Nothing could be done to save 367 homes. The main highway going through Colorado Springs was shut down so that people could evacuate. The numbers evacuated now rose to 32,000.
We walked home from the Rockies game in stunned silence. The film footage was horrifying and all the pictures being posted by friends on Facebook looked like surreal. We could hardly believe that this was happening to Colorado Springs, our friends, our old church, my husband’s work facility ……
The following photographs were taken by Ron Adair, a dear friend of ours who is a wonderful photographer. This is from the Colorado Springs side of the fire.
Wednesday morning my husband and I drove back through that lonely graveyard of trees to get back to our home. When we got to Woodland Park we stopped to get a hamburger only to find that Wendy’s was closed and the town had evacuated. Only a few businesses remained open and the town looked like a ghost town. The hospital had evacuated and as we passed it I snapped the following picture.
We were only home a couple hours when we received a reverse 911 call telling us to pre-evacuate. We assumed it was because of the Waldo Canyon Fire but found out later it was because of a fire on a neighboring road. It is difficult to describe the emotions that overcome you when you look around your home trying to decide what to save. Loving photography as I do, I gathered up boxes of photos and photo albums. Knowing how much time had gone into my hand-knits, I grabbed all the shawls I had knit and one drawerful of hand knit socks. I grabbed a couple of framed stitched samplers because I knew my fingers had lost the capability of replacing them. And being a mother of grown daughters, I gathered up all the sweet little things children make their mothers as they are growing up.
With an arsonist on the loose who had started 22 fires in our area over the last couple weeks I would be telling a falsehood if I said I remained calm throughout the packing, instead I felt a flood of panic overwhelming me. A couple hours later the pre-evacuation was lifted and we went on to our Wednesday night church meeting where extended prayer time ministered to my heart and gave me great peace. I was once again reminded that we need to leave our worries,cares and anxiety at His feet. As I left church the sky was absolutely beautiful and looked like a Monet watercolor painting.
This has been a long, emotional week but each day the fire has become more contained. Containment does not mean the fire is out but is safely contained within a barrier that will prevent it, Lord-willing, from spreading. As of today, a good many evacuations have been lifted. The mountain pass was opened yesterday for residents to get back home. My pastor is still displaced as the firefighters secure that western perimeter of the fire. They are camped around his home in tents. There have been 18,000+ firefighters.
Stories are starting to circulate as we hear of people we knew who lost their homes and it is difficult hearing them. The firefighters have yet to tell their stories. They are heroes, these firefighters. There are many tears and I think there is a sense of being shell-shocked. The media was allowed to go in today and film so I’m sure there will be many more emotions surfacing over the next few days. We still have a long, dry summer ahead of us and have been warned to live with a heightened sense of awareness to grass fires and structural fires. Please keep us in your prayers when you think of Colorado.
I know this has been a longer post than usual. I suppose I needed to get some of my emotions out and into words. I’ve had inquiries from all around the world from my internet buddies and I appreciate each and every one of you. And, the outpouring of concern and love from others outside the state has given great encouragement. Our hearts are filled with thanksgiving that we are safe and unharmed. Any fear we had was stilled by prayer. Despite the dangers we face every year of forest fires we love our state and we love living here. We almost always have enough forewarning to pack and get out. When these things happen we are reminded that these are earthly treasures that we will not be taking with us and we are also reminded of how much STUFF we have — too much stuff! Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers!
Today is the day I join with many others on the 2012 Joy Dare and count my blessings!
412. For a videos of my granddaughter letting me see and hear her discovering how to laugh.
413. For A picture texted to my of her ‘chillin’ out with the caption telling her Gran to ‘chill out’ during a stressed out moment when I really needed to chill out.
414. For God’s protection over our lives and property.
415. For the surprisingly low number of deaths in this fire.
416. For reverse 911 calls.
417. For the outpouring of compassion and help in the community in and around Colorado Springs.
418. For the FIREFIGHTERS that risked their lives and endured incredible heat to protect us and our property.
419. For a photograph of a beautiful rainbow over Garden of the Gods a couple days ago.
420. For photographs of big horn sheep walking around on the grounds of Glen Eyrie castle which was untouched by fire.
421. That our beautiful Garden of the Gods was also untouched by fire.
422. For friends that check on us and hearing from people we haven’t heard from in a while.
423. For knitting friends I’ve met on the internet checking in to see how I am.
424. For the peace that passes understanding when I cast my anxiety upon my Savior.
425. For the unknown community in the world that have prayed.
426. For time spent with my daughter throughout the terror of this fire.
427. For the tears of compassion that flow freely when seeing others suffering through a tragedy.
428. For stories that are starting to circulate like the one of a pastor returning to an unharmed home and seeing that the fire had come right up to the deck and he could see the bootprints of a firefighter who had stood on his deck and defended his home from the encroaching fire………and the words of hope and encouragement he took away from that scene ……