The Waldo Canyon Fire broke over the ridge above my family’s home early Tuesday June 26th. Having already burnt 5,000 acres, it blew past three different points as the firefighters worked to hold it back. Winds over 65 mph and temperatures above 95 F pushed the flames into the neighborhoods nestled at the foothills of Northern Colorado Springs. It was the scenario the state and federal emergency responders were trying to avoid. The city watched and listened on.
I tuned in to the Fire Department Scanner online from Oregon as fire teams gave account of their locations and the direction the wildfire had taken. At the same time my mom listened on from Colorado Springs, evacuated three days earlier as did my dad from his current work location in Baltimore, Maryland. Across the country we tuned in until the wee hours of the morning.
That night we heard teams attempt to make stands in our neighborhood and on our street. Intersections in our community that we had driven past, run past, walked past, were now the sites of firemen, firetrucks, brush trucks and barricades. We listened as they tried to save Majestic Drive, the street we had lived on just a year and half prior and currently rented. We listened as they proclaimed the street destroyed and had to move back. We listened as the fire moved northward into more neighborhoods and more familiar places.
The scenes unfolding on the TV and streaming online were hard to comprehend. The mountain lit up with flames that could be seen with the naked eye from miles away and smoke that could be photographed from space. Over night the fire would move so quickly the damage would cover an additional 10,000 acres by morning.
32,000 people were evacuated from their homes on that Tuesday as teams tried to battle the raging wildfire against dry, hot, windy weather. It would be two more days before the temperatures began to drop and significant progress could be made in containment.
From Oregon I received calls, chats, text messages from friends, family, and friends of friends. The community pulled together to house evacuees, to donate food and clothing and express their thanks to the men and women risking their lives to save our lives and property. My mom was set up in a friends apartment, dogs and all, was made home cooked meals and given food donations coming in from around the country. I got calls and texts of people willing to help, to clean up, to give what they could to my family. Even as I write this a call has come in from my local church to see if my family is at all in need.
Last Thursday night my mom attended a meeting set up by the city to give official word on the status of the homes in the evacuated areas. Seven pages, front and back of addresses and initial assessments. Addresses were listed with the words “Damaged” or “Destroyed” next to them.
Sunday morning my parents were able to go in and see the property on Majestic. The fire burned so hot that nothing was left behind but cement and brick. My mom describes the property as “surrounded by ash and everything fallen into the basement.”
After seeing the damage to the Majestic rental property, they headed a few blocks west to the Denby house, where they currently live and had to evacuate from six days earlier. The house showed no visible signs of damage, barely smelled of smoke. A half inch of ash was piled up on the windows, but my mom said it was, “like an oasis.”
As my parents cleaned up the house, moping and vacuuming while they were allowed in the neighborhood, a family arrived that had been neighbors to my parents for six years in the cul-de-sac over on the destroyed Majestic.
This family, with two young boys, had lost everything. In the evacuation, many didn’t think the fire would hit the homes and they packed just a few things to hold them over a couple days. This family had only a couple sets of clothes with them and equipment for the boys sports that would occur during what they thought would be a couple day evacuation. Everything else was gone.
As they spoke with my parents it became clear that their family being able to stay in the neighborhood, kids at the school and around their friends, was more important than my mom staying in the six-bedroom house alone. Not only that, but it would allow my mom to relocate to Baltimore and be with her husband for a time. After getting the okay from all the people involved in the situation, the decision was made. Later this month the family will move into the house on Denby, fully furnished. Their insurance will pay the rent and my mom will settle on the East Coast.
I am beyond proud of my family and my community. When my sister heard the firefighters needed food donations, she loaded up her car and dropped off box after box of snacks and water. When my community found out that people were being displaced they opened their hearts, their homes, their wallets, and began to take care of each other. The town is covered with signs thanking the men and women still working 16 hour shifts as we enter 70% containment.
Tonight at 6 pm we get to check out of the hotel go back into the Denby house. Over the coming weeks there will be insurance claims, assessments, rental contracts and road trips, but my family is safe, my heart is full of love for them and our community and my aspirations are to grow up to be as generous as those around me right now.