Letter Re: Lessons Learned from the Black Forest, Colorado Fire

Dear JWR;
There is nothing like a real emergency to get you checked out in a quick way for your evacuation plan. During the Black Forest Fire, which began on June 11, 2013, at least 511 homeowners completely lost their homes, many more were damaged and are uninhabitable, two people and countless animals perished in the fire. Our family and business were in the direct path of the fire, but a major wind shift the first night, along with hard-working first responders saved us.

Sitting at the office ready for our afternoon of work, a friend walked in and sid, “did you see the fire?” Expecting a wispy white trail of smoke when I peered out the window, I was immediately floored when what I saw was a GIANT plume of black smoke heading our way.

LESSON ONE – Take Action. My husband and I took 30 seconds to put the “Office Closed, Fire Drill” sign on the front door and we were outta there and home in four minutes. We did not debate, question, ponder, look, examine; we went directly home. I know some who dawdled to watch and photograph, but then had only minutes to “grab and go.”

At home, we sat down with our two children, who were wondering what we were doing home so early. We calmly told them – which took ALL KINDS of self control, that there was a fire, and we were going to pack up and be ready to go if we had to.

LESSON TWO – Keep the kids busy and involved. The more we gave them to do, the better they felt. Our children are old enough to help, 11 and 16, and were very calm, as we stayed calm. I have to give kudos to both of them, they did not panic and were very focused on the tasks at hand. On a side note, my 16 year old is completely disabled. His task was to monitor the news and let us know when “breaking news” came over the Internet. Thank goodness for the battery-powered radio, which kept him involved and important while we packed, even when the power failed.

LESSON THREE – Ammo is heavy. Unlike so many families in this firestorm, we had time to load the trailer. Clothes, papers, medicines, dogs easy in 10 minutes or less, ammo was a bit more difficult. Thankfully, friends materialized out of nowhere to help!

LESSON FOUR – Keep the keys on a lanyard or string or belt or rope or chain on your body. We only had to hunt for lost keys twice. One friend loaded up her van, couldn’t find the keys and had to leave the loaded van there. It is easy to set them down when you are busy going to and fro from house to car to house to car and so on. The memory stick around my neck was a comfort, unfortunately, brain doesn’t kick in so well in an emergency so I never thought to tie the keys to the lanyard I was already wearing.

LESSON FIVE – Power and water are going to be shut off. After years of reading this blog, books, emergency handbooks etc., you think I would have figured this out. Well the fire commenced at 1:30, we were home by 2 p.m., and the power and water and gas were off by 3:30. Thankfully, water stored, battery radio prepared and additional lighting was no problem, but I did feel a bit stupid wondering why the sink faucet wouldn’t work.

Because of the smoke and proximity of the fire, we voluntarily evacuated the children late Tuesday night. Thanks grandma for the couch. My husband came back and spent most of the night at the property. And we were able return, early Wednesday morning. We had no utilities, but our preparedness habits made our home quite comfortable during this emergency. Our home remained on “Pre-Evacuation” status for two and a half weeks. That meant living out of suitcases in our living room, which was a miniscule problem compared with what was going on just a couple of blocks north of us.

Now the rebuilding is taking place. Friends are sifting the ruble of their home sites looking for hidden treasures. So much was lost, but community and family abound. The Southern Baptist have their disaster relief semi trailer parked a block from our home and are offering assistance. When I asked how long they would be here, they said “Until we are done.” Great people. I also know Samaritan’s Purse is here with disaster teams, and the Red Cross and many other agencies. By the way, I never thought I would be the one offered a ham sandwich from the Red Cross. It is weird to be on the “receiving end” of the emergency. Gratefully, I declined and offered the food to a friend who had to evacuate, lost power and all of the contents of his freezer.

There are many more lessons to learn from a fire drill like this, and some stories to tell. Some were learned by others, some by us: For example: Paper maps to handle all of closed roads, grab the cell phone chargers, leave the stuff. We learned that goats like to ride in the back seat of Hummers too. Spray paint your phone number in large numbers on your horses if you have to let them out and close the gates so they do not return to their stalls and many more. Hopefully this can help others, and I look forward to continue reading this blog to learn more for myself and my family.

– Colorado Boots. Black Forest, Colorado