First off, I want to begin by saying my thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut. I cannot explain the amount of sorrow I felt when I heard the news. Please keep these individuals in your thoughts and prayers as well and hold your loved ones a little tighter each night.
I’ve lived in Colorado for twelve (almost thirteen) years minus the nine months I spent in Tampa, Florida for university.
That’s not confusing at all. Let’s start over.
My family and I moved to Colorado around the summer of 2000. My dad was originally stationed here for the Air Force before I started second grade Even when he retired and my parents divorced, my mom, sisters, and I never left. Twelve years later, I graduated from a high school in Colorado Springs, went to school in Tampa for a year, and then transferred to Colorado State University up north.
The purpose of that was I want to say that I’m used to the occasional forest fire. I remember for almost three years we were in an extreme draught and under water restrictions. People weren’t able to water their lawns whenever they wanted and we were taught to conserve water in our own homes. Living in Colorado, it’s common for there to be at least one during the summer, if not more. It’s common for there to be a fire way out in the plains, far away from most urban areas.
What isn’t common is for there to be a fire less than forty minutes from my home in Colorado Springs.
I remember the day the fire started because I was on my way to work. I saw smoke in the distance and texted my mom once I arrived. She and her boyfriend said the fire was in Waldo Canyon and we had gone hiking there before. She asked if I remembered it, and I did—barely. When I went into work, my boss and I talked about the smoke and the fire. We hoped they got it under control soon and we went about our business as best we could (which was difficult when we could smell smoke in our backroom and see our city burning every time we went outside).
It was June Twenty-Fourth. These are some of the pictures I took at the mall parking lot.
|Mall parking lot|
The Waldo Canyon Fire was a serious event that to Colorado Springs. I cannot express my gratitude enough for the brave men and women who fought the fires—both volunteers and trained firefighters. I am moved by the sense of community I got from this city during this time. My mom and I donated foods for the firefighters and those who lose their homes and we received a tour of the Care and Share complex. It was full—to the max.
|Photo credit to KKTV|
Three days after it began, the winds picked up and the fire spread. I was at my second job when my mom called me. She was checking up on my sisters and I (I like to refer to this as my mom going into “Mama Bear” mode, calling us all and needing to know we were safe — I felt the same way about her and my sisters). My oldest sister, Stacey, was living on the Air Force Base at the time with her best friend and they were evacuated. Two women, three children, and their animals headed to Stacey’s house in the east. Stacey was not expected to move there until the beginning of July, but her landlord was gracious enough to let them move in early as they were being evacuated. My sister Stephanie was at home then and my mom was still at work, but her store would close within the hour (she works at the same mall as me, but at a different store).
She told me the sky was orange. Everything was orange.
It looked as though the apocalypse had arrived.
|Photo credit to KKTV|
Not even five minutes later, the ash started to blow. My second job was about forty minutes—on the other side of the city—from the fire and ash was blowing all over the stadium. The game was canceled within seconds of its arrival and my team and I went into shut down mode.
My mom called me again, wondering when I was going to be home. We had to do a full closing of the stadium since it was the end of a homestand, so it was taking us a bit longer than usual. Added to the fact I was unable to leave the backroom—if I went out in all the ash, my asthma would have flared up—my team and I were suffering from miscommunications. I saw my doctor earlier that day before the fire spread and she gave me emergency asthma medication which I had to take once I arrived home. When we finally closed the stadium down and were able to go, the sky was dark and it looked to be snowing—but it wasn’t. The sky was too hot, too dry, too alive for snow.
My sister and her friend were still on their out to the east. There was a traffic jam as more and more people were forced to evacuate their homes. They saw the fire hurtling over the valley, towards their home and so many others. I’m thankful they were able to get so far away from the fire. I’m thankful they were all okay. I knew I was safe in my home as well—I live at the opposite end of the city. If the fire reached my house, then Colorado Springs would be destroyed. I would have other things to worry about than the loss of my home.
Over three hundred families lost their homes today. Over three hundred homes, but only two lives. We have some incredible fire fighters in this state. I’m thankful for all the people who helped save this city.
|Photo credit to KKTV|
This place is my home and I never realized how rooted I really was until I saw it on fire.
When I left the stadium and headed home, my family and I anxiously watched the news as the Flying W Ranch was lost and the home total slowly tallied up.
When the wind began to settle and the ash stopped flying through the sky, my mom, sister Stephanie, and I headed out to watch the fire from various points in the city. There were streets blocked off and officers standing at various check-points. We couldn’t get close—and I’m certain we wouldn’t have wanted to—but we wanted to see the fire. We wanted to see what was causing so much havoc to our city and take pictures.
Which is what we did.
|The fire spreading over the ridge|
We weren’t the only ones who had this same idea. All along the roads, cars were stopped and people were staring. What else was there to do by stare?
This fire has changed my city. We were brought together in ways no would could have imagined—terrible ways, in all honesty. There were eleven fires burning throughout the state this summer and all of them were devastating in their own ways. Colorado is known for its beautiful landscape and scenery. Our city is now scarred from what has happened. We will always remember what we lost this summer.
Of course, we will also remember what we gained.
Colorado Springs came together as I had never seen it before. Though fire destroys, it also gives the chance to rebuild—which we will. We will be better, stronger because of what happened that hot June day.
As Waldo Canyon starts to recover and we rebuild what was lost, we will all be grateful for what we still have.