Surviving-Barely The Great Black Forest Fire of 2013

Paul Richardson 6/23/2013

On June 11 I started the day picking up some paint that Deb had picked out for the new office I was making for her. I came home and began to paint. Late morning I finished and took a shower to clean up. It was a little after noon. I noticed a smoke smell and went outside to check it out. A fire truck had just pulled into our neighbor’s driveway to the west. I walked over to see what they were working on and discovered a small fire at the neighbor to the south of them on the next street over. It seemed they had it well in hand so I went back home and started to fix a lunch. I noticed closer to one that the wind started blowing very hard, almost like someone had turned on a huge fan. Almost immediately I saw fire racing across the south side of our property to the east. I jumped up and grabbed our two laptop computers, a couple of cameras and headed out to the car. I came back hoping to make several more trips. I raced down the hallway to the bedrooms, grabbed an arm full of clothes, Deb’s new Pandora charm bracelet lying in plain sight but as I reached the living room (16 foot sliding glass door) and looked to the south I saw that the wind had shifted and the flames were already at the south side of the house and to the southwest side as well. Knowing that would have to be the last trip, I headed for the car. Just in the 30 feet to the car a couple of embers burned my hand and arm. Piling into the car I drove out the driveway to the north and turned east. West was a cul-de-sac. As I approached the intersection the flames were like a wall of fire across the intersection from southwest to northeast. My only way out was to drive through about 100 feet of flames and turn north away from the fire. I made it in a blur it seems and began to wind my way around the subdivision to the north to get to a north south road where I could head south ahead of the fire and make it to town. About 50 minutes before it left I received the reverse 911 call to advise me it would be a good idea to evacuate. I guess so. Deb was at work and safe. When I met her after her work I told her to smell my clothes. She said, ”Were you barbecuing?” After a fashion, I told her and them told her about the fire. We knew it was likely that the house had burned but didn’t know for sure until the next day when a neighbor across the street from us had received permission to reenter the area to pick up

some livestock. He sent us a couple of pics from his phone that showed the lonely chimney stack rising from the basement above an ashy rubble. It was almost a week before we were allowed in and then only for 3 hours to visit the site of our home. At first it is hard to grasp the detail in the devastation. You look at things that had been on the first floor that are now on top of the remnants of things that were on the walkout basement level. So the washer, dryer, off the kitchen and refrigerator, dishwasher, range are all a jumble of twisted metal lying where the pool table used to be. Steel beams that supported floor joists are twisted like pretzels. The large crystal collection that Deb had acquired while living in Germany are melted blobs of glass in the strangest shapes. Friends who had lived through last year’s Waldo Canyon fire told us that the things you will find are fired glass products for the most part and that turned out to be true for us. Oven ware, coffee mugs, but also some recognizable remnants of china, figurines, etc. In the storage shed detached from the house were a Suzuki four-wheeler I used for hauling a garden trailer with wood I had cut and the “slash” I was taking to the community slash site where every summer it is chipped into mulch. Also, other bigger things were a large Toro snowblower easily recognizable and not so recognizable a DR Trimmer mower, whose 5 HP engine was a badly deformed glob of metal. In the garage were untold tools but also a pallet that Home Depot had delivered a few days before with porcelain tile, underlayment, thinset morter, door trim and a 60 inch pre-hung French door set that was ready to be installed in Deb’s office. The insurance company has been good to help, putting us up in an extended stay hotel until we can move into a rented home since we plan to rebuild. People ask about the fire danger but it will be far less with all that has burned in this fire. The work to define the old house for insurance valuation is intense with structure first; almost done after about 6 hours of meetings using their computer program for documenting the current value if the house were to be built today. The next step, although we have been working on it in parallel is to list the contents of the home. This is a very large undertaking. I’ve created a pretty large spread sheet by room and we

keep adding things based on memory and as jogged by our visits to the site. Challenges include valuing the china you inherited from your grandmother. The cherry furniture including grandfather clock your dad built, the antiques you’ve collected here and in Europe. The task is enormous. I meet tomorrow morning with a representative of a group that cleans up the site, and hauls away the debris in an environmentally safe (approved) way. I will be cutting down the trees that are standing but dead from the fire and cleaning up that mess. We are also pondering what sort of plan to use when rebuilding. The old 8 bedroom plan is not needed anymore. One interesting thing we’ve seen without exception is that in 100% of cases, homes that burned with a metal exterior shop, garage, barn, adjacent to the house, the metal clad building is unharmed even to the lack of discoloration of the paint. Amazing. In spite of all of this, we have much to be thankful for. We are both well although stressed. Deb who experienced Hurricane Katrina before we met puts it well when people ask about her positive attitude. “Here the fire destroyed over 5oo homes, a disaster, but in Katrina, the city was greatly harmed, my job at Tulane University Cancer Center didn’t exist anymore and while my home didn’t get destroyed it was severely damaged. This is better as the Colorado Springs infrastructure is unharmed, my job is still there and we have a chance to rebuild anew.” I couldn’t say it be tter than that.

The first pic sent by our neighbor with his smart phone

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful