Loss and recovery after Colorado wildfire
Here in the west, summer fire season is a way of life. So when the Waldo Canyon fire started, we weren’t too panicked. It was small and a few miles off. But Colorado was experiencing a record-breaking heat wave and drought that had the Front Range dry as a tinderbox. A few days after the fire started, I stood outside our home and saw that towering inferno coming right toward us.
The minute I walked back into the house, the reverse 911 call came in. We started packing and evacuated that night. We listened to reports of hurricane-force winds fueling the fire with growing alarm. It was several days before we found out that our house was one of those burned to the ground.
The sight of it was shocking. One fireman told us that the fire was so hot, it was like someone held a blowtorch to our house. We lost almost everything. We’d been discerning when we evacuated, taking only the things we needed – a few clothes and personal items, important business documents, computers, and a few sentimental items. The rest of our things, from my entire body of art and extensive yoga library, to our family photos, were destroyed.
When you lose 99 percent of your stuff, every day is like walking on glass. I would see something at the store and think, “I don’t need that. I have it at home,” forgetting for a second that everything was gone. Each day was full of little traumas like that.
We’re living in my childhood home now and expect to stay here for at least a year, if not two. While some of the displaced have started to rebuild and others have moved on, we felt it was important to take our time to grieve the loss of our home. We spent weeks sifting through the rubble. We were even rewarded for our troubles when we uncovered hand-thrown pottery buried in the ash! Mark collected truckloads of twisted metal that he hopes to use to make a commemorative sculpture one day.
Growing up here, I remember my parents battling grassfires on their property. There wasn’t much of a fire department in Colorado Springs then, and although the fires were scary, they usually stayed fairly small, and my parents fought them by hand. To have a wildfire descend out of the mountains and into the city was very shocking. We used to feel very removed from wildfire, very safe. But there’s a new vulnerability now.
There have been many good things to come out of this. People really pulled together and showed incredible generosity. One thing I’ll never forget is the sight of people working together to evacuate hundreds of animals from the barn where I kept my horse. And right now, children at one of the local schools are making Christmas ornaments for those of us who lost ours in the fire.
Mark has lived all over the world and used to be a park ranger, so he’s experienced many natural disasters. But he’s convinced they’re happening more frequently now. We both believe that what happened here will be a drop in the bucket of what’s to come if we don’t do something about climate change.