Puppy Fun and Trial By Fire: From Vacation to Evacuation

Two weeks ago my daughter and I concluded a visit with family, ready to return home and sleep in our own beds. Our time in Missouri gave me a chance to proof recipes at a lower altitude and higher humidity, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I learned that more flour and less steam is required than at high altitude, valuable information I can now add to the recipe notes of my Sprouted Wheat French Bread, Parmesan Sprouted Wheat Bagels, and Sprouted Wheat Burger Buns. It was time well spent in the kitchen as well as with family.

My sister, Suzi, breeds English Golden Retrievers and she was caring for two litters of 4 week old puppies while I was there—18 puppies is more fun than a barrel of monkeys (and a ton of work). At four weeks they are ready to learn their names, which is a color until they go to a family (she marks them with a crayon), as well as giving their attention and sitting. It is remarkable how their personality it apparent so early on. They kept my mom and sister quite busy, but there was sweet cuddle time for me while waiting for the oven timer.

 

Puppies play hard and sleep hard. They will run in every direction and then sometimes just lay down and sleep wherever they were just standing.

Sleeping by the water pail — so sweet!

Such sweet faces!

 

When the baking and puppy fun was done, there was loads of chit chat about life. If enough coffee is flowing, we have a knack for solving the world’s problems by the end of a long breakfast. Relaxing around the dinner table with a glass of wine brought days to a peaceful end. The highlight of my week of baking was the hamburger buns, though I ended up over-cooking the burgers, which was a bummer. Oh well, that’s the way it goes when I get too focused on one part of a meal.

Midway through our visit, I began receiving text messages from friends back home asking if we were okay and if we needed anything…

Weird, it was like they knew something I didn’t.

A fire had started in Waldo Canyon, about 4 miles from our house. It was among ten wildfires burning in Colorado, so the news stations in Missouri didn’t single it out. Thank goodness for Face Book where friends can keep you up to date on what is really going on! Of course, I depended on my husband’s assessment of the danger to our home, which for the first three days was minimal.

Early on June 26th, we headed to the airport, wondering if we would see the smoke from the plane over Colorado Springs. When we finally landed at 3:30 pm, the column of smoke was about the same as the photos I had seen earlier from texts. Though it had spread to more than 5,000 acres, it was primarily on the other side of the foothills and no structures had been affected. As we drove home the wind was beginning to shift, the temp around 98° and I noticed flames on the crest of the hill. I’d seen smoke in the photos, but no flames, and the column of smoke was widening.

We arrived home to this:

4:00 pm, June 26 from our backyard

At this point the wind was still blowing North, but the smoke now filled the sky.

It looked like a volcano eruption.

 

As soon as we unloaded the bags, I watered my garden while watching the sky. Matt began taking photos, each one more ominous. It was incredibly hot and dry, the smoke intensified with each passing minute. We hopped back in the car to get a better view from the parking lot of the corner post office where several others had gathered. In the short time we had been home the fire was no longer on the crest of the hill—the hillside was on fire.

 

4:45 pm at the post office parking lot

From the post office parking lot we could see the fire was spreading quickly down the hillside.

We were stunned to see the flames so vividly.

 

The wind fueled the inferno, fire jumped across the foothills hundreds of yards at a time–everything changed in just minutes.

A woman standing in the parking lot became distraught as she watched her engulfed neighborhood.

Traffic, which had been normal just 30 minutes prior, was now snarled in gridlock. People began to panic, driving over curbs (folks in CO with 4×4’s are prone to disregard 6” obstacles), one roared through the parking lot right in front of us, fortunately no one was hurt.

Police and fire engine sirens began screaming past.

 

Fire trucks and police cars where trying to respond through traffic that was quickly backing up.

 

We had registered with reverse 911 so we would receive a call/text alert to evacuate. No alert had been issued for our neighborhood, but we decided to get home and get ready to evacuate anyway. One daughter was at work, the other just out of the shower, who now had the task of packing for herself and her sister. We had been home for 1 hour, phone calls and text messages began pouring in with offers for a place to stay and close neighbors checking on us to be sure we were getting out.

Still no evacuation notice.

Two other neighborhoods north of us were evacuating, so our friend and neighbor was stuck in traffic coming home from work, unable to get home to collect her things. No one was being allowed in so others could get out. I can’t imagine the number of people who were caught in that same situation, it was a little after 5:00 pm, many of them would have to evacuate with whatever they took with them to work that day.

Already tired, I had a difficult time deciding what to pack. I could hear the brutal wind outside, erratic, so strong the deck furniture was blowing across the yard, towering trees bent helplessly sideways. The smoke was filling our neighborhood, so all the windows had to be shut while we finished packing and the heat was stifling. Then the electricity went out, which meant no fans to circulate air in the house in now 100° temps.

The phone was still ringing, but connections were tenuous, calls dropped after only a few moments. Text was more reliable, though time consuming, making it hard to complete a thought about what was being stuffed in boxes. At this point, we looked around and decided if we had important paperwork, the computer, and family photos, the rest was replaceable. It was time to go.

With wet bandanas covering our faces, we loaded the cars like evacuating bandits. Thankfully, our friend was one of very few able to make it home to retrieve her dog and precious belongings or that would have been our next stop. Had her (hero) boyfriend not shown up to help convince the police she needed to get home for her meds, she may have ended up evacuating in the back of the police car based on her initial encounter, but that is another story. She had received the evacuation text, call, and email, though we never did. Evidently, the reverse 911 system was having issues.

We caravanned out of the neighborhood, our 16 year old driving alone for the first time, tucked in between her dad’s truck and mine. Literally, it was trial by fire, she had been amazingly helpful with all she had calmly got packed and loaded, we were enormously proud of her. Our older daughter met us at a friend’s home just a few blocks from her work (they were preparing to evacuate too), at last we were together and ready to proceed to our final destination. Let me tell you, I don’t care how old your kids are, when facing a crisis, all you want is to make sure your family is safely together.

 

This was taken by a friend of a friend. Words are not enough or needed here.

 

The roads were clogged with additional neighborhoods being evacuated, so we made our way slowly east to stay with friends who were able to receive us and our dog, Silas. Pets make evacuating even more challenging; many were displaced and cared for by volunteers while away from their owners. When you consider 32,000 people were evacuated, that is a lot of displaced family pets. Another friend couldn’t find their cat when police knocked on their door to get them out of the neighborhood—her son told the officer he faced more peril not finding the cat.

Everything happened so fast after our arrival home there was no time to stop and eat dinner, so we were grateful to be welcomed at our friend’s with food and a bed to lay our weary heads.

Aided by 65 miles/hour winds and record high temperatures, a wildfire that had consumed a little over 5,000 acres and no structures over 3 days, devoured an additional 12,000 acres and more than 350 homes in a matter of hours. Days later, we would learn it also took the lives of an older couple who did not evacuate. According to the National Weather Service, gale force wind is defined as 34–47 knots (63–87 km/h, 17.5–24.2 m/s or 39–54 miles/hour) of sustained surface winds. Normally, this type of wind is associated with hurricanes and tropical storms. Imagine a hurricane carrying fire, hundred foot flames releasing embers with each gust … everyone was caught off guard, our purple mountains majesty was eclipsed with smoke. It is still hard to believe that 81% of the homes were saved and no firefighters were injured. We are so appreciative of their coordinated efforts and bravery.

Waldo Canyon Fire was declared 100% contained last night. That is reason for celebration and an important step to begin the recovery process, which will look different for each family. Whether it is smoke damage, rebuilding, relocating, encouraging and helping, grieving other less obvious losses, it is a journey best traveled with good neighbors and friends. Several of our daughter’s friends lost their house, one in particular told us there was so much they had to process letting go of over the past two weeks, but there was also so much to look forward to as they prepare to rebuild. The mom’s attitude tugged at my heart because she had just finished chemotherapy and survived breast cancer, they knew they had all they needed. As she put it, they had just climbed a mountain, so they knew they could climb this one too. The Westside is a resilient community, committed to helping one another and moving forward, I’m glad we are part of it.

We really hadn’t worried much about the fire when it started, we thought the mountainsides and 4-lane road between us was a lot of distance for it to cover before our home would be in any danger. Silly human notion, thinking we know what tomorrow holds. Well, it burned all the way down to the road, less than 500 yards from our house. That still feels so close to me, but for others, it was the house right next door. It is crazy to try and wrap our head and heart around even now.  Thankfully, our home is secure, heck, our gardens even survived! We talked again last night about measures we will take to prepare differently for emergencies like this. What is really important, what isn’t. Flash flooding is now a real concern for our area with the hillside landscape so drastically changed, sure to hold our attention through the rest of the summer and for years of rainy seasons to come—part of our new normal.

Throughout life’s journey there have been timely messages, encouragement, and scripture to help our family persevere through trials. As I look upon our beloved foothills and mountain trails ravaged by fire and homes destroyed with only a curb number to distinguish it among charred remains, it is Isaiah 61:3 that inspires hope.

…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Today, we are savoring the comfort of this place we call home, from the dining table witness to the toil of homework and the joy of feasting to the paint on the walls that covered toddler “artwork”, there really is no place like it. As we unpack the last box, I look forward to cooking and writing again. I have missed visiting my on-line friends and am anxious to return to my regular blogging schedule to finish the pizza series, which my husband says will have to be renamed Five Pies In Twenty-Something Days. Ha! Maybe so, such is life.

5 Day Timelapse – Waldo Canyon Fire – June 23rd-28th:

A touching ballad in honor of the firefighters who battled the firestorm:

“Gratitude” – Colorado Springs Residents Cheer the Firefighters – Waldo Canyon Fire:

Waldo Canyon Fire – A Community Tribute: This is one of the best tributes I’ve seen, acknowledging all the neighborhoods and communities affected.

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14 Responses to Puppy Fun and Trial By Fire: From Vacation to Evacuation

  1. ChgoJohn July 12, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    What a harrowing experience, Judy! I’m so glad to read that you and your family are safe and that your house and belongings were spared. There are far better ways to be welcomed home and may you never experience this one again.
    ChgoJohn recently posted..Calamarata with Shrimp and MusselsMy Profile

    • Judy July 12, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      Thank you, John! I so look forward to writing about food again, but felt it was important to put this together and get it out of my system first. Thank you for your kind encouragement, we are so grateful.

  2. Carole Smith July 12, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    I am very new to your website but I wept for all you this morning as I read your amazing account of the fires. There were tears of joy and sadness for everyone and the precious animals. So glad that so many survived and sad for the loss of anyone. We in Oklahoma are very familiar with horrific weather, mostly tornadoes, and fire but nothing to compare with what your state of Colorado has had to bear. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you! On a lighter note, thank you for the adorable pictures of your sisters pups. They are so cute!!

    • Judy July 12, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      Welcome Carole! I hope to see you again here in the future. :) I agree, there is a mix of grief and gratefulness we all feel. There is much to be done, but we are confident the community will recover and thrive again. Thank you for your sweet tears and kind words of empathy and encouragement, that means so much!

  3. Oh my goodness, Judy, I didn’t know you guys were so close. I can’t even imagine evacuating after just getting off the plane. We’re about 7 miles away, but still that was close enough. I drove down Centennial and 30th yeasteday and just cried and cried. My prayers are for you, and your neighbors and friends, especially the girl’s mother who just survived cancer. Wow! Just heart wrenching. I wrote a similar post on my blog last week. I read The Ballad Of Waldo Canyon when it was first written, but I hadn’t heard it put to music. So sad and beautiful. Do you mind if I share this post with my readers?
    Rebecca @ Peanut Butter, Passports, and Epinephrine recently posted..Hell FireMy Profile

    • Judy July 12, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      Hi Rebecca, it is good to know we are such close neighbors! I just read your post, so poetic and poignant … so many stories still untold. We drove up Flying W last Saturday, our kids went to school there at Chipeta, they played with friends in those neighborhoods, it was so sad to see. We often walk through Ute park and marvel at the view, now with stark, long stretches of blackened terrain.
      You are welcome to share this with your readers, thanks for asking. :) Our community is strong, we will overcome.

  4. Maureen @ Orgasmic Chef July 14, 2012 at 6:59 am #

    We came close to evacuating in Australia during a bushfire. It’s hard to describe how black the sky is and how much smoke is in the air. I’m so glad you’re safe.

    • Judy July 14, 2012 at 7:58 am #

      Thank you, Maureen, I appreciate that so much. I was just at lunch yesterday with a group of friends, some evacuated, some didn’t, but the wondering, the waiting, the dense smoke is hard for everyone, which I’m sure you know. Bushfire in Australia would be very intense with so much fuel, something you would never forget.

  5. Jed Gray (sportsglutton) July 14, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I’m so happy to hear that you, your family, and home are safe Judy. I can’t even imagine all the emotions, stress, and uncertainty that you were going through as the fire threatened life as you knew it. Reading about how things unfolded reminds me never to take anything for granted and savor the little things in life. Thank you for taking the time to share everything with us…and may many positives emerge from your growing garden this summer.

    Best,
    Jed
    Jed Gray (sportsglutton) recently posted..Is it Time to End the Dream?My Profile

  6. Jed Gray (sportsglutton) July 14, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Oh and you’re pulling my puppy strings with those pics!! :-)
    Jed Gray (sportsglutton) recently posted..Oven Beer Can Chicken with Spicy Bourbon Peach GlazeMy Profile

  7. Lora July 14, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    Hi Judy,

    So glad you are home, safe, and getting resettled after a most unsettling adventure. Your account was so good that it made me nervous. Excellent writing and photos.

    Looking forward to Twenty Something Days of Pizzas!
    Lora recently posted..ATC for Ruth WaltersMy Profile

  8. Karen (Back Road Journal) July 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    What a unimaginable thing to have gone through. I lived in the Florida Keys during Hurricane Andrew but we had a warning that it was coming and had a day to prepare. Fire is totally different. I’m so happy that your home survived but I know the stress will live with you for a long time as it did with us after going through Andrew. My best to you, your family and all your neighbors.
    Karen (Back Road Journal) recently posted..Wasabi Glazed Salmon With Sesame Brown Rice And Roasted AsparagusMy Profile

  9. Raymund July 16, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    Thank God you are safe as well as your belongings.
    Raymund recently posted..Guest Post : Sam from Sweet Samsations featuring Martabak ManisMy Profile

  10. Hotly Spiced July 16, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    Those puppies are so gorgeous. I don’t think I would have been able to stop playing with them – they would have been exhausted! What a terrifying ordeal. We have had news of these fires on TV here in Australia and have been concerned for all in your area. We know only too well how deadly bush fires can be – we have had many such tragic occurances here in Australia. I’m really sorry you’ve experienced something so terrifying but glad to know you and your house and gardens have survived xx
    Hotly Spiced recently posted..The Best DayMy Profile

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