Fire on the Mountain
We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us – Winston Churchill
On the morning of Monday March 26th, I enjoyed the early morning quiet as I began what was to be a very busy day. I was squeezing in 12 separate conference calls so I could take the rest of the week off for my trip to California, first to speak at Inside Edge and then to join my colleagues at Rejuvenate Training to begin my spring marketing launch for my business.
|How it looked at 2pm
As usual, I sat drinking my coffee on my favorite leopard chaise by the window, one 90-pound dog curled up at my side, the other at my feet. I gazed at the view, which even after 9 years, I never took for, granted. Ahhhhh. Life in our dream house, our little paradise of a retreat on the side of a mountain. How lucky we were.
I remember the first time we found it. The ad in the paper sounded to good to be true: 37 acres, 2 bedroom, 1 bath, far ranging views – and an exciting bonus – completely “off-the-grid”, meaning solar power only. After getting used to mountain living 4 years before, we craved even more adventure. As we approached the property down the mile-long, jeep-trail of a road, through groves of shimmering Aspen trees, the view began to emerge. Each step closer we took, we held our breath a little more, fully expecting to be disappointed at the end. We had so many near misses, seen homes that didn’t quite do it – that sounded good on paper yet never felt like our place. As we rounded the last corner, we glanced at each other as the sweetest profile of a house I had ever seen greeted us. Set against towering pines and perched on the side of the hill, this paradise looked out over a vast expanse of mountains ranges including Pikes Peak sixty miles to the south.
We found our forever home.
Every time I pulled in my driveway, I would take a moment to admire that sweet profile of our magical home and breathe a sigh of relief.
At 11:20am, I emailed my house sitter with directions and got ready for my next call. Sometime later, I noticed a smoke cloud over the next ridge. The Thursday before, I had seen a similar cloud and, as all mountain residents are trained to do, I searched on-line for information. Relieved to see it was a “controlled burn”, my husband and I went on a hike with our dogs before I hosted my radio show. During the intro of the show, I talked about the “adventure” of living in Colorado and the concern that most mountain residents felt during this particularly dry spring.
So this day, I searched again. My first indication that something was not right came from a post on our community forum called “PineCam”.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:15 pm Post subject: lower north fork fire
Elk Creek and North Fork Fire departments responding to a reported 1 acre fire about 6 miles down Foxton. This may be a burn over from a controlled burn in that area several days ago.
This was new – and somewhat alarming. Having lived in the mountains since 1999, I had seen other fires but fortunately had never been very close. Prior to moving to this home, the dramatic and devastating fires at Buffalo Creek, Hi-Meadow and Hayman had left their still visible scars on our vistas.
Today, the wind was whipping. At one point, large branches blew against my door. I flinched, and my dogs growled. Not a good day for a fire.
To keep informed, I checked PineCam again after my next conference call ended:
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:28 pm Post subject: Update is fire is up to about 5 acres at this point. Requesting additional resources.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:42 pm Post subject: Elk creek will be staging at the entrance to Reynolds Park, additional units being requested.
Still continuing with my day, I emailed my clients about upcoming writing days.
Checking again, my concern begins to grow. I repeatedly try to reach my husband who was on a business trip in Seattle.
At 3:20, I begin communicating with an informed poster on PineCam, Dave Cochran (to whom I am forever grateful!) who seems to have up-to-date info.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:44 pm Post subject: Fire has grown to 10 to 15 acres per fire crews. Foxton Rd. closed at 285. Also Platte River Rd. closed at Buffalo Creek (126) to Confluence.
My friend Jolene arrives to help me prepare for my trip. She thinks we should start packing boxes in case of evacuation. I don’t want to mess up my house, so instead we start making calls and trying to find out information.
At 3:53, I ask the Dave on PineCam if he can speak with me on the phone. Inquiring what I should be watching for, he said that the white smoke cloud indicated the fire was still on the ground, if it turned black or brown that meant it had moved to the trees.
At 4:21, I text my friend Shawn and ask him to come help me cut down trees, he says he is on his way.
At 4:28, I began to email Dave some photos from my vantage point to get his opinion.
At 4:31, I post a picture on Facebook. Subject: Fire way too close to my house. Prayers please.
At 4:43, I send a new picture to Dave. The subject “Hit trees”. The cloud has exploded, turning a frightening brown. I see it in the middle of a message I am leaving for David’s colleague in Seattle. “Oh, fuck” is what I say and hang up.
My friend Greg arrives and begins loading my car. Somewhere in this period, David calls and I completely break down, unable to speak and hand the phone to Greg. David gives instructions to bring a few of his things.
I am now walking room-to-room staring blankly and wondering what to take. My eyes rest on an object for a moment and I make a split second decision to take it or leave it. Feeling somewhat out of body, yet not really believing I wouldn’t see my things again, I throw objects into bags. I grab my pillow, favorite blankets, a few beloved articles of clothing, my wedding album, and some jewelry.
Joleen runs to the shed to get the cat carrier and then begins to throw more pictures in a bag. I put the dogs in the car, relieved to have them ready. I keep going back in the house, thinking of “one more thing…” At one point, I grab my computer monitor but keep smashing into things as I attempt to carry it out. I drop it, thinking it’s a $300 piece of equipment – not that important. I go out to the car, and then come back for my slippers. I rack my brain for what else I should be taking. I run back in again for dog food and bowls.
Then Sean arrives and we know it’s time to go. Not because of any official warnings, but because we see flames below my house and an enormous billowing cloud of smoke which seems to block the road out.
I close the door and take what I didn’t realize would be my last look at my dream house.
|The way out…
I don’t see the below posts until later:
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:00 pm Post subject: Mandatory evacuation of Kuester Rd to Conifer High School.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:04 pm Post subject: fire size is now over 100 acres, is Crowning
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:04 pm Post subject: A pic from a fellow Pinecammer prior to evac, towards the end of Kuehster Rd. (My pic I sent)
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:35 pm Post subject: Estimated evac for Pleasant Park/Kuester area is 500 homes per feedback from team.
I text David at 5:52pm to let him know I am at Staples parking lot. We recon with friends to make a plan. I don’t see the rest of these posts until I am at Jessica’s.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:49 pm Post subject: Per Elk Creek Fire, a Structure Protection Task Force is being implemented.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:55 pm Post subject: West Metro Fire is adding resources to this incident.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:10 pm Post subject: All fire resources are being sent to InterCanyon Fire Station 3. Also fire reporting fire has jumped Kuester Rd.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:38 pm Post subject: JCSO unit reporting from end of Kuester Rd that here has been burn out in that area.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:34 pm Post subject: Fire crested ridge east of Reynolds park and is running WNW
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:49 pm Post subject: Pleasant Park Rd. traffic is being restricted per JCSO. Avoid travel along this road.
Now safely at Jessica’s having handed off one dog to my friend Jessie and the cat to Greg and keeping my puppy Tigger with me, I begin following the updates.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:51 pm Post subject: Over 900 homes reported as evac per Denver Post. InterCanyon Fire reported 200 plus acres a couple hours ago, likely much larger now.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:14 pm Post subject: UPDATE: The Lower NorthFork Fire is now over 3,000 acres with more than 900 homes evacuated. according to CBS4 News.
|While I slept, this was happening.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:19 pm Post subject: As of 9:00 this evening all major news outlets are reporting 900 evacuations for the Lower North Fork Fire.
I start emailing concerned friends and responding to posts on Facebook checking on my whereabouts. I let my mom and dad know I am safe. I realize I have received a text at 5:10pm with an evacuation warning. I never received a reverse 911 call. My sleep is sporadic – all night long I think of my home and those of my neighbors and pray for everyones safety.