Monday, July 02, 2012

I heart Colorado Springs

It's been a wild week.

A week ago today, as everyone now knows, Colorado Springs experienced the worst fire in Colorado state history. Benjamin and I read what we could on the web from Spain and as the fire grew worse, we felt more helpless. The evacuation zone was down to 30th and Pikes Peak and we live on 14th and Pikes Peak. Freaked out by the uncertainty and feeling like we should relieve our house/dog sitter, we booked flights to leave that afternoon.

36 hours later, we arrived in Colorado Springs. The air smelled of smoke, the sky hazy and thankfully the fire turned toward the wilderness than torching the entire city. 300 homes were not so lucky. I keep asking everyone, how did they stop the fire? What prevented it from burning down more of the city? What made the flames retreat?


My coworker told me the local news showed houses exploding, one after another. Everyone was glued to their televisions as the city burned. The firefighters would removed any flammable material from porches, side yards, etc. and some how, some way it retreated.

Each time we touched down between flights we would frantically look for media coverage. Our local newspaper the Gazette had the most up to date coverage, yet their reporting didn't do it justice. It was the facts, pure and simple: town meetings, press conferences, evacuation zones, containment efforts.

Thursday night we were reunited with our puppies and home. Everything was covered in ash. Our house sitter said on Tuesday night she was glued to the television, waiting to get the word it's time to evacuate.

Friday morning I went to the grocery store just up the street. It's usually super packed no matter what time of day or night I go. The parking lot was empty at 10am. The store borders the evacuation zone and its regular clientele are the people who lost their homes. Who lost everything they owned. Who hopefully were able to grab what they needed in 20 minutes they were allowed to. Who hopefully had paid their home owners insurance. I felt like I stepped into the Twilight Zone.

Saturday night we went out to dinner with some friends and they said how depressing it was. How you couldn't go outside. How everyone had a bag packed, ready and waiting just in case. The city was awake all night Tuesday. How with every gust of air, you hold your breath, hoping the fireball doesn't return.

Rumor has it earlier that week, someone had been starting fires in the Woodland Park area. About 10 different small fires were put out. There was no lightening that day the Waldo Canyon fire started. No, this one was deliberate. Couple that with a freak storm that came up from Pueblo with 65 mph winds and what normally would burn up the canyon was blown into a fireball by the winds. That's when it flew over the ridge and engulfed the Meadow Shadows neighborhood. That's when people lost their homes.

I wasn't even here and the winds freak me out. They come in gusts every afternoon with the thunderstorms. They fuel the fire and make it spread at a rapid rate.  (Even typing this now, a big gust of wind blew in smoke-filled air into the house.)

The outpouring and support of the community is amazing. It is filled with love and generosity. Did you see the story about the grandmother who is taking care of her 4 grandchildren since their parents died and lost her home on CNN? She came into my work, completely filthy and told my coworker that she didn't ask for this. Since her face was on the news, random strangers are coming up to her and expressing their heart felt love. She went to use the ATM at a local bank and a stranger approached her saying he had been waiting for her and handed her a plastic bag with wrapped up $100 bills and Valium. During the evacuation she had only enough time to gather her children's ashes, her pets, her four grandchildren and run. One of the little boys asked her if she grabbed his Lego's.

Story after story after story.

The city is regaining its composure. It's regaining its strength, slowly. Time is on our side in that it never stops. And the more time that passes, the more healing can be done.

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