Hope after the East Troublesome Fire

Well, this week has been an adventure to say the least.

On October 14th, a fire broke out about 20 miles away from us.  At first, it was a very small fire, but it kept consistently growing in our direction.  We were in no immediate danger and we were not in either the evacuation zone or the pre-evacuation zone.  (The pre-evacuation zone usually gives you 3-4 days warning here.)  Last weekend though, Rick and I both felt like, as a precaution, we’d do some pre-planning, just in case.  We packed my car with an extra kitchen kit, warm winter clothes, water, food, and some keepsakes.  Then, we created “Grab and Go” zones in the house of items that we’d grab if we had 15 minutes to get out in a dire emergency.  These were things like additional clothing, our dog, Riley’s, meds, food, toys and some additional coats, hats, shoes, etc. 

We did all that and thought, “We will probably just end up unpacking all of it, because we probably won’t need it.” 

That all changed on Wednesday night, October 21st.  We attended the Facebook Live meeting with the Incident Commander and Sheriff.  Folks asked about Grand Lake, where we live, and we were told that there was no immediate danger and that we were not even in the pre-evacuation zone.  That meeting ended at 6:15 p.m.

At 6:42 p.m., both of our phones buzzed with the Red Alert information that we were now in a pre-evacuation zone.  We both took a really deep breath and then said, “It’s not surprising as the winds are pushing it this way.”  The fire was still 10 plus miles away.

At 6:58 p.m. our phones buzzed again.  I looked down and it was another Red Alert message and it said, “You are now in a mandatory evacuation situation.  Pack and overnight bag and leave NOW.”  I remember thinking, “What?  I must have read that wrong.”  I re-read it and said to Rick, “What does your say?”  We just looked at each other for about 10 seconds, our hearts racing.  There was a fleeting few seconds of panic and then I said, “Okay.  We’ve got our plans and our grab and go stations.  Let’s go.”  Together, we worked through it as we had planned, and we were out of the house in less than 10 minutes.  (Originally, I thought it had taken us about 15 minutes, but Rick checked the time in the car when we got in.)  All I can say is Thank God we had done that pre-planning.  It was hard enough to act, and we were prepared.  Without that, I think it would have been paralyzing.

I doubt that I will ever forget the drive out that night.  Rick was following me in his car.  From where we live there is one road in and one road out, unless you want to go up and over Trail Ridge Road, which goes through Rocky Mountain National Park.  They were discouraging that because the road is treacherous in the daytime as it hugs curves and cliffs and it’s very narrow.  Under the cover of darkness, and the massive clouds of smoke, it’s extremely dangerous.

I started driving, I really thought we were being evacuated as a precaution because of the road situation.  Then we started down the 15 mile stretch of road.  Within a mile or so, I began to see the fire coming over the ridge. That continued all the way down the road.  There were places where the fire was so close, I could have thrown a frisbee and hit it.  I just remember thinking, “And we were out of our house within minutes of getting the evacuation notice.  What about the people behind us?  Can they even keep the road open long enough for them to make it out?”   And then I thought, our house is surely gone. 

Fast forward to today, Monday, October 26th.  There are many reasons to have hope and many moments of awe.

We don’t have official word on the house, but we have good reason to hope.  We can see from the satellite maps that it doesn’t look like our house was in the fire zone (although the fire zone is about 100 yards away).  Also, a friend and neighbor knows one of the firefighters who was doing some fire assessment in the neighborhood yesterday and the firefighter said that the road we all live on is untouched by the fire.  That would be nothing short of a miracle.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  It is a miracle, and it didn’t happen just on its own.  It happened with the aid of the firefighters who rushed into an inferno and they risked their lives to save our homes.

While I will never forget the sight of driving out that night and seeing the flames approach the road at an unbelievable pace, there is another sight I will also never forget:  the sight of firefighters, police officers, ambulance drivers and paramedics rushing towards the fire.  I told Rick, that I will probably be baking pies and cheesecakes and lasagna and soups and taking it down to the firehouse every month for the rest of my life.  I’m just so grateful.

The loss of life has been incredibly low.  At this point, there are only two confirmed deaths.  That’s stunning considering how fast this fire moved.  We are being told that this is the fastest moving fire in U.S. history.  At one point, it was consuming 6000 acres per hour.  That’s the equivalent of more than 80 football fields per minute. 

I’ve also been awed at the bravery and grace of our volunteer firefighters.  Many of our firefighters are volunteers up here. One crew (in a different town) was working on a house that was on fire and it belonged to one of the firefighters who was fighting that fire. Everyone knew it was his house and they were trying their best, but it was a losing battle. There is a certain point when the fire has engaged a certain percent of the structure, they are taught to move to the next structure because they know that they can’t save it. This firefighter/homeowner saw that the fire had engaged to that point and he said, “This one is lost. We need to move to the next one.” The rest of the crew said, “But it’s your house. We can still try.” And, he said, “No. We move on to save the next one.” That story both breaks my heart and warms my heart at the same time. Such amazing courage and dedication and service of others.

And, finally, I’ve had people ask how we are dealing with the uncertainty because there is so much uncertainty swirling around us right now: Will we have a house to return to?  If so, when?  Will it be damaged?  When will the power lines be restored? When will the natural gas lines be safe?  What about other services like internet, cell coverage, water supply, etc.?  Will the pipes in the house burst because of the single digit temperatures overnight?  The list is endless. 

We are dealing with the uncertainty by:

  • Feeling very grateful that we are alive and that our precious dog, Riley, is alive.
  • We are also really grateful that we have the resources to manage.  We can buy extra food and extra clothes and rent a place if we need to for a while.
  • We are very grateful for the support that we have received from our friends, neighbors, family, colleagues and the prayers that we’ve received from people that we don’t even know and may never even meet.
  • We are grateful for the heroic efforts of our first responders. 
  • We are trying to find small ways to help others.  The day after the evacuation, we saw that a local church was setting up an emergency foodbank to help the evacuees.  We went and bought a cart load of groceries and took it to the church.  Today, we are going to see what else we can do to support these efforts.
  • We are also thinking about bigger ways to help.  Some of our neighbors are going to need help cleaning up their property.  Our favorite place to cross-country ski most likely took a lot of damage.  They will need help clearing the debris.  I grew up on a farm, I know how to get my hands dirty and do hard work.  It’s just hard work, that’s all it is, and I know how to do that.

So, the short answer for how we are dealing with the uncertainty is: 1) by embracing the support that has flooded our way; 2) by looking at everything that we have to be grateful for; 3) seeking ways to be of service and help others; and 4) giving ourselves the margin and grace to feel whatever we need to feel right now.