Tag Archives: West Fork Fire Complex

Day 2: When under fire….life of an evacuee.

The view before evacuation…

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Earlier this summer I had the unique experience of going through an emergency evacuation as the West Fork Fire ripped through beetle kill trees in the Rio Grande National Forest in Southern Colorado, heading straight towards the town of South Fork. Straight for home.

The reverse 911 call went out and in just a matter of hours South Fork became a ghost town. Not having been through anything like this before, I learned several things throughout this experience.

First and foremost I learned that I am a bizarre packer. Looking back, and not knowing exactly how much time I had to pack, I pretty much packed my car in three phases. Phase I: basic essentials. This consisted of the typical things one might first pack–like files, pictures, computer, pets, etc. Phase II: things that make you feel more prepared–like dog food and tennis shoes. Phase III: completely ridiculous things that make no sense but somehow make it into the car–like my pillow, and a bunch of new bras I had just ordered from Victoria’s Secret. I call these creature comforts. Things that make no sense whatsoever, but somehow end up in the car anyways. I can’t explain it, but it made it quite entertaining to rediscover what made it into the suitcase over the next 8 days that we were “homeless.” Each day I felt like I’d find one more thing that would make me scratch my head. Things that make you go hmmmmm.

Another thing I learned while being evacuated is that an evacuee has a lot of time to just sit, and wait, and wait…and think. Each day started with an evacuee meeting at the Red Cross shelter, getting updates on containment (or lack thereof), and learning that today was not the day you were going to get to go back home.

Honestly, that put a lot of things in perspective. Thankfully, we were able to evacuate and stay at a relative’s house in the next town just 17 miles away. Three dogs, two cats, and three adults in a charming little house with one bathroom. No one complained. At one point, we just cracked open a bottle of wine and sat on the porch of our temporary home and watched the 30,000 foot smoke plume invade the sky, completely helpless. There was absolutely nothing we could do, and the moment you realize that is very sobering.

When we left South Fork with cars loaded, I drove out of the driveway not expecting to return. At all. We were wheels up at 10:00am, and with the fire burning through beetle kill fuel at over a mile an hour, it was estimated the fire would reach town center by 2:00pm that afternoon. When we left, I said goodbye…and I said goodbye for good. Honestly, if the town was going to go, we did not want to be the only structure left. Lord, save all of it or none of it, but please don’t leave us in-between. God saved us all.

Probably the most important thing I learned is how to say goodbye. When something is completely out of your control, it’s actually quite freeing when you realize it and let it go. It’s amazing when you truly release something and let it go how it somehow finds its way back. After 8 days and 110,000 acres later, we drove back in to find not one thing harmed, not one structure burned, and not one life lost. When walking back into the house for the first time, I was shocked to discover we didn’t even smell like smoke. Now that is a God-wink.

Now that we’ve been back for a bit, the danger has waned, and we’ve been able to settle back into a “normal” routine–things aren’t really that normal. The river sounds better, the grass smells sweeter, and the bugs aren’t very “buggy.” I feel like I’ve been granted a fresh perspective and a new reason to enjoy even the littlest chores and tasks. Because just a few short weeks ago we were very close to losing it all. And for that, I am very grateful. I have no doubt this experience will come into play as I continue to create my next decade list of goals. Things shifted with this experience–and that is more than okay.

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QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” – Eliza Tabor

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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