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.
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.
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.
Veal Parmesan with Homemade Marinara
- 4 veal cutlets , pounded thin
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese , plus more for garnish
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoon fresh parsley , divided
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Extra-virgin olive oil , as needed
- 4 slices provolone cheese
- Marinara Sauce (See Recipe)
- Angel hair pasta , prepared according to package
- Heat oven to a warm setting -- between 170°-200°. Prepare a large pot with water for pasta and bring to a boil. Angel hair pasta will only take 2 minutes to cook, so it's ideal to start cooking while frying the veal cutlets. The Marinara Sauce should already be done and kept warm.
- Place each veal cutlet inside of a zip-type baggie and pound veal using the smooth side of a meat mallet, flipping cutlet over and pounding on both sides to 1/8" thickness. Season cutlets with a little salt and pepper on both sides.
- In a wide, shallow bowl combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, parsley, garlic powder, salt and black pepper. In another shallow bowl, mix egg and milk with a fork to blend.
- Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Prepare veal for the skillet by dipping each cutlet first into the egg and then gently pressing it into the breadcrumb mixture. Cook the cutlets in the oil until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add more oil as needed to keep it lightly bubbly around the veal.
- Place the cooked veal on a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet, top with a slice of provolone cheese and place in the warm oven until ready to serve. (You can shut the oven off now that it is warm.)
- To serve, place a veal cutlet over a bed of angel hair pasta, top with marinara, and garnish with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small sweet yellow onion -- chopped
- 2 cloves garlic -- minced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 28 ounces Italian stewed tomatoes -- blended , but not pureed
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian herb blend
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley -- chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil -- chopped
- salt and pepper
- In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion until translucent and lightly browned around the edges, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 mintue. While the onion is cooking, blend the tomatoes in a food processor or break up with your hands into smaller pieces, but be careful to not overprocess or puree.
- Add wine and and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, dried herbs, and crushed red pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 mintues. Taste to adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper, as desired.
- Stir in parsley and basil and cook for another 2-3 mintues to meld flavors.