Barns Burnt Down

Day 2.Sleep was difficult.I curled up with my puppy (and when I say “puppy”, I mean 90 pound dog…).Tossing and turning all night, then drifting to sleep but waking every time my dog twitched, I finally gave up the thought of sleep sometime before 5am.Fortunately, fresh coffee was already brewing, as Jessica’s husband Steve is an early riser.Turning the computer on, I began searching for updates.Finally at 6:48am, I found this post:

From the briefing this am:

Fire size between 3050 and 3500 acres

15-25 homes lost

1 fatality (Unknown if this was fire related or not)

Forecast for day is for 30-40 MPH gusts

expecting 450 FF on the line by the end of the day

2 tankers one guide plan and 1 helo on order

A type 1 incident team en-route

0% containment

I began spreading the word.Texts, calls and emails start pouring in.“How are you?”“Do you know anything?”“We love you.”“Our prayers are with you.”… I am attempting to keep up with the kindness and love being expressed.I am not sure what to do; it feels like more wandering from room to room.David and I keep checking in.It seems best that he stay put in Seattle for now as he has a full day of work.I keep thinking about the enormous, billowing, black cloud – yet picture it moving in a different direction, turning away from our oasis.I pray for my neighbors.I pray for my home.

Fortunately, I am distracted by Jessica’s enchanting little girls.The oldest joins me early and sits on my lap.I spend 20 minutes with my nose resting in her hair, inhaling her presence.She is delightful, sweet and seems content just to be with me.I take great comfort in the warmth of her small body.Time has a strange essence.Minutes pass, or are they hours.An hour later, it seems like forever.I don’t know what to do with myself.

At 11am, I email David’s mom: “Wanted to give you an update.A controlled burn that clearly wasn’t properly extinguished go out of control and quickly went form 1 acre to 5 to 15.We were evacuated later in the afternoon.Tigger and I are staying at my friend Jessica’s.Another friend has Bill the cat and another friend has Roscoe.We don’t have much in the way of updates.We know some of our neighbors lost their houses.”I don’t even notice my typos… my brain doesn’t seem to be functioning.I am sure she understands.

I email my mom next with a link to a map of the burning area and say, “looks way to close. Scroll down to see the map. May of our neighbors already know that they lost their homes.”

I begin to monitor the Jeffco Sherriff blog site, at 11:15am, the post reads:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lower North Fork Fire Update 3/27/12 1115

Second Fatality Confirmed Within the Fire Zone

A second fatality has been discovered within the fire zone near the location of the first. Both fatalities are being investigated by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire has grown to 4,500 acres. Sixteen structures have burned thus far; that number is subject to change. The Type 1 Incident Management Team from the Great Basin Area of Montana is expected to arrive this evening to assist in the management of the incident.

Colorado Lt. Governor Garcia is expected to visit the fire zone today.

The next press briefing will occur at 4:00 PM at Elk Creek Fire Station #1.

Blackhawks and more tankers are on the way.

I meet my friend Kristina for breakfast, take the dog to the off-leash park to get outside for a while.It’s a beautiful sunny day and the wind has started to die down.I begin to hear specifics on neighbors who know there homes have perished.Each time, the reality of the beast becomes more real.

I make a plan.From our home, we have glimpses of the North Fork of the South Platte River winding along a distant road.I will drive up that road and see what we can see.Some years before, David and I saw what we believed to be our neighbors’ barn and roof.If I can find it again, maybe we will know if our house is ok.All other roads leading in to the area are closed – so my friend and I embark on this adventure hoping to make it far enough to know something.

On the way out, we stop at Staples.The parking lot has become a relay center for rescuing animals.Chickens are crammed in dog crates, horse trailers are everywhere.It has become the place to leave extra vehicles (including our plow truck that Shawn drove out which now has a flat tire) as well as an update station with the latest maps.Knowing it’s not an exact science at this time, we view the map, seeing my road and the general location of my home.Is it in the burn, out of the burn, is the map correct, is it off… a slight shift in the fire boundary leaves me puzzled.No real answers are here so we drive on.

The roads are eerie.It looks like a war zone (not that I have ever seen one except on TV).Sirens, fire trucks of all shapes and sizes, tankers hauling water, news crews.One neighbor donated his hay field as the helo-opps center.The small community of Conifer is buzzing with activity.

Kristina is good company.Quite witty, so fortunately, so she takes my mind off of my angst.We snap pictures of the ironic sign on the side of the road which reads “Fire Danger High”.We hope to be allowed to drive far enough to give me a sense of knowing.We drive into dense clouds hanging in the air that cloud my car with smoke and briefly wonder about the health qualities of that.

At last, we make the turn on the road that parallels the river where I hope to get a glimpse of my land.As we approach, I realize that it will be difficult to see anything, even with the binoculars I borrowed.The smoke is thick up against my mountain and I am not sure where the exact spot is where I might catch a glimpse.Dismayed, we keep driving until we come to a blockade.A very large, yet thoughtful, state patrol officer approaches the car.I notice how kind all the authorities are when I say, “my house is up there”.He wishes he could let us pass, but says he can’t.We chat with him for a while, comment on his dramatic half-sleeve tattoo and turn my car around.Heading back, I angle the rear view mirror so I can see behind me and maybe catch a glimpse of my property.Not a very safe way to drive, but we are moving slowly and there isn’t much traffic way back here.I stop a few times, get out and look but don’t see anything.Then, after one bend in the road, I stop again.Getting out, hopeful, I peer through the smoke up the side of the hill.I barely make out what we have always thought was my neighbors property – his red and white barn roof and the green metal roof of his house.I tell Kristina, that I think we might be ok.

As soon as we are back in cell range, I call David.I ask him how sure he is that what we had seen before and again just now was our neighbor’s property.He thinks he is sure, I say, “Then, I think we are ok.”

Kristina and I skip going to the high school where the next update is happening and head back to Jessica’s.I feel relief and some survivor’s guilt.

I see the latest update online:

4PM News Conference Update

2 confirmed casualties, one person is missing

23 homes damaged

4,500 acres at this point, not much growth today which is a good sign

SEAT and helicopters from Buckley assisting

Pre-evac order issued to 6,500 homes as a precaution to gain a power curve in case the fire gains momentum

200 FF on scene now, more resources up to 450 by end of day

0 percent containment

New type 1 team coming in tonight and will activate tomorrow am

Asking that no further food donations be made. They have that covered.

I wonder who is missing, who is dead.My phone rings and it’s my neighbor Sharon.At this point, I have heard about her house and talked to her a few times including prior to evacuation.During the confusion of pre-evacuation, we talked, attempting to share updates and decide what to do.She said, she was going to hook up her horse trailer.I said, “That’s a good idea.”Her husband was out of town too.

Now, Sharon asks how I am.Somewhat guiltily, I reply: “Better”.And begin to tell her about my drive and what I think I saw.

She stops me, and says, “Kristen, your house was on the list.”

“List?” I say, “What list?”

She says, “I was just at Conifer High School.The head investigator, a captain from the Jeffco Sherriff’s office was reading a list of homes that were lost.He had your address… and your name.

Not able to take this in, I kept asking the same question, “Are you sure?”

Sharon patiently replied, “Yes, Kristen, I am sure.”She gives me a number to call.

Hanging up, I needed to see this list myself.I started making calls, searching on line and could find no list.The sheriff’s office had no information.Finally, after an hour of searching, Jessica and I head to Conifer in search of “the list.”Everything was changing rapidly, we go to the High School but the command center had moved locations.We drive to Elk Creek Fire to find the parking lot clogged with TV vans and fire trucks.We enter, I give my name and address and they lead us to a bench to sit down.Not a good sign.A very nice deputy comes and said it would be a few minutes.I hoped they would send us on our way and tell me not to worry.

Last night at our temporary home, we watched “Water for Elephants”.Early in the movie, there is a scene where the main character is given the news that his parents were in an accident.The shot of him walking into the hospital captures a mood.: those final moments before everything is about to change, where life is still the same, but information that you don’t want to receive is right around the corner.Time stands still, we grasp at moments to hold on.

As I sit there waiting, I study the hallway.There is a buzz of activity.They are propping the door open with a 5-gallon water bottle, a lone lamp is in the hallway, seeming out of place, and we sit on a wooden bench tucked against the wall, people walk by and smile kindly.Then, the lead investigator comes and sits down next to me.I brace myself.

He shows me my name and address on “the list.”At this point, nothing has soaked in.He describes it as “either a total loss or damaged beyond repair”.I cannot remember this simple description and ask him to say it again no less than 5 times, finally writing it down.We call David and I have him say the same to him.The investigator is kind and patient with us.He answers all questions he can and then we spend a few minutes helping him with phone numbers of other neighbors on the dreaded list.As we leave, we are warned that the parking lot is full of media.We choose to avoid the blaring lights of cameras and makeshift reporting stations.

When we reach the car, the Captain calls.He says, “I have good news.I just saw a note on your property.Your barn with the metal roof survived.”I respond, “Our barn doesn’t have a metal roof… that’s our neighbors’.”He says, “I’m sorry.I hoped I had some good news to give you.”

I don’t remember the drive back to Jessica’s.I don’t remember much about that night.I remember being numb – and little thoughts of precious things popping in my head.I can’t bear to think of my beloved home.I push it out of my mind, and it sneaks back in.I cling to the hope of maybe, just maybe, they made a mistake.Maybe they didn’t make it all the way back to our house.Maybe maybe maybe…

Sleep doesn’t come easily.I toss and turn.David is headed back in the morning, not able to get a flight out that late.We miss each other dreadfully.He feels helpless to be so far away.I snuggle with Tigger so glad to have him with me.I stare at the ceiling, feeling the void.

10 Comments
  • nancy
    Posted at 14:59h, 06 April Reply

    I am speechless…

  • Ellie P
    Posted at 18:01h, 06 April Reply

    Been thinking of you so much. And thank you so much for sharing – in the middle of all this, you’re incredibly generous. I’m sending you, David, Tigger, Roscoe, and every one around you love. And thanks to Jessica, Steven and Kristina for taking such good care of you. XOXOXOXOXO, Ellie

  • Tanya Buck
    Posted at 18:38h, 06 April Reply

    Kristen, I too, am speechless and so want to help in any way I am able. I’m not sure where you guys are planning on living, but I do know of a couple of places owned by friends that are empty. Both would allow you to have your animals with you, neither would charge much, if anything, for you to be there. Let me know if you are interested. I feel so helpless and am awed by your strength, your optimism. I am sorry for your losses. I’m trying to find you a gate right now. Wish I knew what size you needed, and love that you want to paint it purple! Call me if I can help, or email ilopealong@gmail.com, phone 303 838 5791. Love and light, you guys, love and light!

  • Barb Hart
    Posted at 18:44h, 06 April Reply

    You are a fantastic writer. Thanks for sharing your heart and soul with us. I hope the writing is therapeutic for you.

  • Martia Nelson
    Posted at 19:21h, 06 April Reply

    You are an amazing writer. I’m deeply moved and feel like I’m right there with you. I’m glad you, David and your animals are safe. I trust that the good you exude into the world will come back to you in support now as you need it. Love, Martia

  • Sara Nowlin
    Posted at 20:37h, 06 April Reply

    Thank you for first hand experience of your finding yourself on “the list”. It was such an amazing way to capture the moment. I felt like I was riding next you trying to find the neighbor’s roof, or sitting in the hallway with you. Thank you for sharing your life in such a public way.

  • Rev. Amy Roden
    Posted at 20:59h, 06 April Reply

    Thank you for sharing your process as you go through this monumental time. I couldn’t have begun to imagine what you are going through. I think about all the times we shared at BYE with your intoxicating smile and the light in your eyes. Please let me know if I can be of any service as you continue on your journey. Rev. Amy Roden

  • Wayne
    Posted at 20:50h, 07 April Reply

    Kristin, I’m so sorry for your loss. So many times we read about devastation like this without reading the human element of the story. Your account certainly brings it all home.

    Having lived through wildfires up here since the early 90s, I feel fortunate that the closest we’ve come is a car packed to leave — but a trip never taken.

    I’m thankful that Pinecam was of help to you during the fire. When I started the website in 1994 I had hoped it would become a community resource. I’m sorry it had to be under circumstances such as yours.

    Thanks again for sharing your story and letting others know what you are going through.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 02:01h, 08 April Reply

      Pinecam was an extraordinary source of info. Thank you!!!! Dave (waterman of evergreen) was amazing. He told me what to look for.

  • Rachel Carlson
    Posted at 16:26h, 10 April Reply

    I have no words right now as I weep over a cup of coffee while reading your thought-provoking words. If anything, you sharing what you are experiencing during this time, even so early, IS going to help a lot of people whether you know it or not. I continue to embrace you in strength and friendship.

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