Record breaking temperatures. Very low humidity. Two years in a row of drought conditions. It is hot and dry here, so this was bound to happen.
We first saw the fire on Saturday, June 23. We were coming home and as soon as we turned toward the mountains we could see smoke. It was noon. We could tell that the fire was close to our house, but not dangerously close. We came home and turned on the TV and got what little news there was. My memory fails me here, but at some point we decided to be ready to evacuate. We talked to the children and they decided that what they wanted to save most was their stuffed animals. We packed those up, as well as all the summer clothes we had in our drawers.
We packed up the car, too. Scrapbooks, luggage, stuffed animals, litter box, cat food, important documents. We couldn’t find one of the cats. We continued to monitor the news and we discovered that our area was put into the mandatory evacuation zone. It took us a little while to finish loading up and in that time they made a correction and moved us into voluntary evacuation.
We stayed packed up all weekend, just in case. We watched the news almost all day. On Sunday evening, my husband unpacked the cars.
Monday was uneventful.
Tuesday morning was uneventful.
Pumpkin Girl was at her ballet intensive all day Tuesday. At 2:00 PM the neighborhood to our immediate north was put into pre-evacuation status. For awhile we thought we were, too. A little investigation showed that the evacuation line was about 1/4 of a mile to the north. We decided to prepare anyway. Our plan was to do some laundry, repack the luggage, maybe load the cars again. I left to pick up Pumpkin Girl. While I was waiting for us, a friend in the pre-evac zone called me to tell me she could see flames coming down the mountain and that they were leaving. I called Phil at work and asked him to go home. A few minutes later, Pumpkin Girl’s class was over and I rushed her into the car. It was 4:30 PM.
As soon as we headed West and could see the mountain, we could see flames. It was ugly. The closer we got, the more we could see and I just kept saying, “oh dear God,” over and over. It is a miracle I made it home ok, because I was in a daze, trying not to freak out.
Driving down our street, we could see many of our neighbors loading their cars. Others were standing in the street, watching the flames come down the hill. This hill –
Phil was already home and loading his car. The cats had been rounded up into Pumpkin Girl’s room. What happened after that is a blur. We gathered up last minute things, got the cats in their travel boxes, loaded up the children. I looked around the living room one more time, just in case. We got in the cars and left. I said goodbye to our house as I pulled away. It was just before 6 PM.
We encountered some traffic, but not a lot. We had already lined up a place to go – the home of a friend. We just drove and listened to the news. We heard that the firemen needed to fall back. We heard that the nursing home for retired nuns at our church needed help evacuating. We heard that behind us, the traffic was backing up. We reached our destination around 6:15. We waited.
Quite honestly, we weren’t sure we would ever see our home again. I couldn’t bear to watch the news. I felt helpless. I slept very poorly that night and was awake for good at 5 AM. The morning briefing gave us hope because the damage seemed to be confined to just a few subdivisions.
Over the next few days we watched the news and studied the perimeter maps. We could tell that the fire had not reached our immediate area, so we were cautiously optimistic. The pictures we saw of the neighborhoods burning showed a different style of house than those of our neighborhood. Soon, specific streets were named and they were not ones we knew.
Later, as I studied the maps more, I realized that I was familiar with the Mountain Shadows sub-division. Bip practiced soccer at the elementary school there last year. I remember sitting there, looking at the houses across the street. They have a nice view of Pikes Peak. It’s a nice little neighborhood. Most of those homes are gone now. So are the homes that lined the street we drove to get to practice. I remember one home with a giant slide going from the deck to the backyard. It always made me smile.
On Thursday a list of the effected streets was published. Our street was not on it. We relaxed for the first time.
Thursday morning brought a list of evacuations that were lifted. We were not on it. News that the fire had not grown was welcome news.
Friday morning came and went with no new evacuations being lifted. Late Friday afternoon came an announcement that a new briefing would occur at 8 PM to discuss the evacuations. We sat and watched. I tried to brace myself for another disappointment. The briefing was a bit awkward and disjointed and they never named our neighborhood specifically, but we could tell from the other street names that we could indeed go home.
So we packed up quickly – the scrapbooks, luggage, stuffed animals, litter box, cat food, and important documents, not to mention the cats in their travel boxes. We were home by 9:30 PM. I was practically in tears, that last mile up the hill to our home. A group of neighbors was standing outside, waving and cheering each car that drove by. I rolled down my window to wave back at them. After we unloaded the car we also stayed outside for a while, waving at the cars going by. I wanted to hug each and every one.
Today is Saturday, June 30, 2012 and we woke up in our own beds. It is the third anniversary of the day we closed on our house. It is good to be home.