This was the thought running through my head as I drove home Tuesday afternoon. The Waldo Canyon Fire had been burning since Saturday. We began packing the house up that day, knowing that the wrong wind could set the state ablaze. To the west of our city lie the foothills of the Rocky Mountains; these are covered in underbrush, prairie grass and pine trees. It had already been a record-breaking summer as far as heat went and little rain to speak of, so the fire had perfect conditions for spreading.
As the week went on we kept our bags near the door, just in case it made it out of the first canyon, over first ridge, into the second canyon, and over the second ridge, after which it would be a small downhill run to houses. Some days the smoke rose in a column, straight into the sky. On Sunday there was hardly any plume at all, just black wisps that served as a reminder of the turmoil the land was in. Our neighborhood remained in pre-evacuation, which means, "Be ready to leave at any time but stay where you are until we tell you differently." A few of our neighbors had already left, not wanting to risk it. We all knew the weather was making things difficult for the firefighters but were hoping they could contain it nonetheless.
But then Tuesday came. I left early that day, by sheer chance and the goodwill of my boss, who knew that everyone was on edge and nervous about the fire. On my drive home I pass the Garden of the Gods and Glen Eyrie, which had both been closed off due to the proximity of the fire. As I drove past them all I could think was that I was driving into the apocalypse. Solid walls of flames were visible between the rocks on my left, throwing off enough smoke to blanket the sky. What normally is an exposed blue was a stomach-churning mix of orange and purple. It was terrifying, but beautiful.
When I got home I took my camera to upstairs, popped out the screen on the westward window and started shooting. This was around 4:30. The gallery below is what I shot while my mom began packing up her car. I only stayed at the window for maybe 15 minutes, but in that 15 minutes I saw the flames eat an entire hillside. I watched as it jumped from ridge to ridge and prepared to invade populated territory. After that I helped load stuff into our cars, my throat dry with breathing in the super-heated, smoky air. Luckily we had about an hour to get everything together. But then the wind picked up and started flinging huge pieces of ash over our roof. The cloud of smoke diffused into every available air space, bullying out the sunlight and blue skies. I told my mom we had to go, so we closed up the house and set off, only to join the ranks of tail lights. This was 6:00.
Traffic was bumper to bumper for miles, cell phone service was spotty, the sky was a primordial glow of orange and red. An hour later we made it the 5 miles to University Village Colorado, a shopping center with a Panera where we sat and watched as entire neighborhoods caught fire. No one thought there would be any houses left standing. In the end they evacuated the entire middle western side of Colorado Springs, from the hills to the freeway. It was a long night for everyone.
32,000 people were evacuated because of this fire.
346 families lost their homes.
2 people lost their lives.
81% of houses that were in danger of burning were saved, including my Dad's.
I'm able to blog this from my house tonight, where we have officially been allowed to move in. We don't have any gas, so no hot water, but I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed. But there are people who will never be able to back to their homes, or their beds. Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers you have been sending our way. This has been a very taxing, very surreal, very weird week. But it's not over. As of today the fire is only 55% contained. Luckily we just had some rain, but the days are still reaching temperatures of upper 90s. There are thousands of firefighters on the ground and in the air trying to get a hold on this natural show of force. Many of our neighborhoods remain on pre-evacuation, just in case another freak day of weather sends this fire back at us.
The good news is that people have been extremely generous to everyone displaced or affected. Talk of rebuilding is statewide and offers of help are nearly overwhelming. Colorado is a resilient state and its people are too.
I have a lot to be thankful for.