It has taken nearly a month to write this post for my friends and community affected by the Black Forest Fire. In the span of that time, heartbreaking stories unfolded, grief set in, and we reflected on the anniversary of the massive evacuation we were part of during the Waldo Canyon Fire on June 26th last year, which claimed 346 homes and two lives from the neighborhood adjacent to our own.
Wildfires are horrendous, unpredictable, and the destruction demoralizing. Over the last several weeks multiple wildfires were burning in Colorado, including the West Fork Complex Fire, claiming more than 100,000 acres fire in the Wolf Creek Pass area west of South Fork—the astronaut view offers perspective. When flames subside and imminent threat is gone, news stories quickly move on to the next story, but the people remain.
While this story is now a month old, it is still fresh in our hearts. Real people lost homes, familiar surroundings, and precious keepsakes—the road of rebuilding is long and emotionally exhausting. Simply put, they need help. Our help. Help from friends and strangers alike, so I’m here to ask for it because they have ashes to sift and lives to sort.
As you read this, would you please consider:
• If you’re a food blogger, do what you do best—make some comfort food and share the recipe. Along with that recipe, you have my permission to share any part of this post you’d like, along with the volunteer and donation links below so your readers will know how to help. [If you share any photos, please give proper credit.]
There’s no deadline, but sometime this summer would be nice. Please use hashtags #blackforestfire and #comfortfoodforCOfires when promoting the post on social media. If you leave a link to your post in the comments here, I will share it too.
• As a reader, you can help a Colorado community ravaged by fire. Give a donation to one of the organizations already on the ground helping locally through the links below—animal shelters, clothing and supply centers, community services, ministries, and volunteer organizations. Your generosity goes a long way in providing the relief and comfort these families need.
On Tuesday, June 11, around 1:30 p.m. a fire started close to Black Forest, just northeast of Colorado Springs. To say it has was a long and grueling week in our fare city would be a gross understatement. Only one year ago, the Waldo Canyon Fire raged through the canyon it was named for and across the Westside foothills community of Mountain Shadows. Waldo Canyon was the most destructive fire in Colorado history, now it is the Black Forest Fire—two record setting fires in the same city within a year—it’s unimaginable.
High temperatures, gusting wind, and drought weary landscape offered perfect conditions for a wildfire the newspaper headlined as “Unstoppable”, and as rapidly as its boundaries grew, it certainly seemed so. It wasn’t the only fire in the state, but it was right here capturing our full attention. Over 40,000 residents were evacuated, spread throughout the city in homes, hotels, and shelters. Among those evacuated were countless pets and farm animals—dogs, cats, horses, alpacas, mules, goats, and chickens—some had evacuees in a spare bedroom; others had them in their chicken coops and pastures.
As helpful as the news reports and press conferences were, it was Facebook where we checked-in constantly to see updates from evacuating friends—statuses changed drastically within minutes. Stunned by photos of billowing smoke and praying without ceasing, our community responded with offers of safe harbor. Thousands hurriedly packed to flee while others watched and waited for the reverse 911 call.
I’m not here to make a plug for Facebook, but in this instance it proved to be incredibly helpful. As friends would post a need, it would often be met within minutes, just friends and neighbors helping in whatever way they could. The community page Colorado Black Forest Fire 2013 posted evacuation updates, photos of lost and found pets/livestock, help information, volunteer opportunities, a community calendar of free meals and benefit concerts, as well as firefighter shift changes so the community could encourage and thank them. One person, who hadn’t connected with their elderly father since the fire began and hadn’t been able to locate him, found him by posting a message on this page. If you would like to read through some of the uniquely touching stories, letters written to firefighters, letters written from firefighters, scroll through their page, it is inspiring.
Now 100% contained, the Black Forest Fire consumed more than 14,000 acres, 486 homes, and most regrettably, two precious lives. We are so grieved for our friends who lost their homes, all their belongings now fit in their cars. One friend mentioned they had always wanted a walk-in closet, which their temporary rental offered—it’s just that now they could fit everything they owned in one. Others gratefully returned home to assess damage and begin to process living among the remains of a charred neighborhood. Our entire community is replete with tears of sorrow and joy, the enormity of it is just overwhelming at times.
Through it all, there continues to be a resounding appreciation for the brave firefighters, law enforcement, military, and community leaders who served these neighborhoods sacrificially during this time. They may say, “We just did our job”, but so many went above and beyond leaving touching messages at homes they tried to save, burying animals to spare homeowners the heartbreak of finding their remains, or lining the street with their fire truck lights on to welcome neighborhoods home. This story from a friend of mine is just one of countless stories we’ve heard:
When we went to our house yesterday, I picked up the business card that the fireman had left at our door and noted his name, thinking of calling him and doing something to thank him. So last night we were late to soccer for Kevin but went to the new fields anyway. I asked some people there if all of the players on the fields were Black Forest soccer. I found out her daughter is on my son’s team. We introduced ourselves and when she said her husband’s name, my jaw dropped. I repeated his name and asked if he was a fireman. He humbly and quietly admitted it. I exclaimed, “You saved my house!!!!!!” Then I described where we live and he said, “Isn’t that the one that had a tent up?” “Yes!!!! Oh my gosh!!! Thank you for saving my house!!!” Then he gave all the credit to his crew and said how our shed was already on fire when they got to our house. He said the house almost didn’t make it. My son’s car by the house was their main priority because if it went, the house went. He didn’t actually know if our house had made it because they do all they can and leave. And of course I started crying! This was a divine appointment! Wow! The opportunity that God provided! And we’re going to see them the rest of the soccer season, although he usually can’t come because he’s fighting fires for the City of Colorado Springs!
When something like this happens so close to you, there is a tendency to stay focused on local rather than national or world news, so I have no idea how this fire has been covered outside our area. I can only guess you have seen a few photos and statistics. My hope is to raise awareness for the people behind the stats. Folks are now sifting through mounds of ash to reclaim random, yet familiar pieces of their lives. Familiar habits (the road you take to get home) and surroundings (relaxation in a comfortable chair) is one of the intangible losses in a fire. Skeleton frames of trampolines, bicycles, and cars sit like soldiers guarding abandoned forts. Lone chimneys, hearths of a busy home, stand alone in soot covered rubble.
Once a home, now it is referred to as … debris.
There really isn’t time for long seasons of grief when that many people lose their home at the same time; there is competition for rentals, supplies, and clean-up crews. There has been an outpouring of help from the entire Colorado Springs community through donations of cash, gift cards, clothing, food, community fundraisers, benefit concerts, and volunteered services to evacuees and firefighters. Large and small animals are being cared for by numerous animal rescues, shelters, sanctuaries, large farms and homes all over the city. Waldo Canyon fire victims also reached out to offer support. We are so blessed to live in such a special place.
The purpose of this post is to spread the word about how to help the Black Forest community recover from this devastating fire. If you are so inclined to help me spread the word through a Comfort Food blog post or donate to one of the following organizations, you have my deepest gratitude.
American Red Cross — The Colorado Chapter of the American Red Cross responds to wildfires in communities throughout Colorado.
Black Forest Animal Sanctuary — Monetary donations will go to help with vet bills of injured animals and other needs.
Books of Hope — Books to Children Impacted by the Black Forest Fire. Please join the Junior League of Colorado Springs in raising money to donate books to the children impacted by the Black Forest Fire. Educational Development Corporation and Usborne Books & More will match all monetary donations at 50% with no limit! The total number of books donated will be 150% of the amount raised and every dollar raised goes towards books. All donations are 100% tax deductible. You may also call the Junior League office during office hours: Mon-Thursday, 10AM-3PM at (719) 632-3855 to make a donation over the phone.
Care & Share of Colorado Springs — Text “Donate” to 41010 and a $10 donation will appear on your next phone bill. Message and Data Rates Apply. Online Donations indicate the donation is for “fire response.”
Colorado Horse Food Bank — Currently assisting El PasoCounty with distribution of hay to victims of the Black Forest Fire.
Flying W. Ranch Animal Ranch & Shelter — Helping to shelter animals displaced by the Black Forest Fire.
Mercy’s Gate — Mercy’s Gate began 30 years ago as a food pantry called Northern Churches Care. Our mission was to join together to love our` neighbors in Colorado Springs by helping with their physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual needs.
mGive Foundation Colorado Relief Fund — We are collecting donations via text. Text FIRE to 27722 to donate $10.00. Full Terms are here: www.mgive.org/t and our full press release is available here: http://bit.ly/178B5R4
Pikes Peak Community Foundation — launched the Emergency Relief Fund for the Pikes Peak Region: Black Forest Fire to benefit non-profits, first responders, and other agencies providing local disaster relief.
The Salvation Army of the Pikes Peak Region — Cash donations allow disaster responders to immediately meet the specific needs of the disaster survivors without incurring many of the costs associated with sorting, packing, transporting and distributing donated goods.
Samaritan’s Purse — Samaritan’s Purse mobilizes staff and equipment and enlists thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to victims of tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters in the United States.
Volunteer Opportunities for those in Colorado:
Disaster Assistance Relief Center is the primary center for most services offered to those affected by the Black Forest Fire. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer or offer a service to the Center.
Black Forest Animal Sanctuary is in need of donations and volunteer help. To volunteer, call 719-494-3934 and ask for Tracy.
Tri-Lakes Cares needs volunteers to help sort and process donations, to distribute food and clothing, and help get items to families affected. Call 719-481-4864 ext 117 to volunteer.
Additional photos, videos, and news from the Black Forest Fire:
Aerial photos (some of these just take my breath away): Photos
Raw footage from The Denver Post of the fire: Video
Man who lost pets in Black Forest Fire surprised with new puppy: News Video
Evacuee returns to demolished home: News Video
Shift changes for the firefighters: Video
I think this next quote is just a small sample of what many families are facing—the emotional processing that is heaped on top of the constant logistical navigation they wake up to each day:
“We have a 5-year-old son, and we’re still at a loss as to how to explain to him that we’re not living in our house anymore. I don’t even want to have the conversation that we may have to move somewhere else without his prized possessions. As adults, we can handle this and understand it and rationalize it. As a child…. I don’t know.”
May each one be comforted with the peace that surpasses all understanding.