The Great Waldo Canyon Fire

I’m sure most of you have heard that in June, there was a horrible fire in Colorado Springs, CO, where I live.  In the end, the Waldo Canyon Fire would destroy 18, 247 acres (about 29 square miles) of land, and nearly 350 homes.  One of those homes belonged to my parents.  My sister was living in it at the time and lost nearly everything.

The fire started out on a Saturday.  My two younger daughters and I were just heading out to the car on Saturday, June 23rd, when I noticed a huge plume of smoke coming from the direction of Pikes Peak.  Like any insane photographer, I ran back inside the house and grabbed my camera so I could take a picture of it.  When we got out of the movies, the sky was filled with smoke clouds and you could actually smell the fire.  I was thinking it didn’t look good!

Waldo Canyon Fire

The first plumes of smoke on the afternoon the Waldo Canyon Fire started.

The next couple of days were a little scary….people were being evacuated and that included not only my sister, but my brother’s family AND my parents!   Of course, my brother and parents were on pre-evacuation, but they evacuated anyway.   By Monday, most of the evacuees were allowed to go home, but my sister was only able to go back in for a half an hour to get a few more things if she wanted.  My brother’s family went home, as did my parents.  By Monday afternoon, my mom had put everything away that she had originally evacuated, not knowing that the worst was yet to come.  Tuesday morning dawned through the smoke and haze, things didn’t look any better.  I got to work and opened up a local TV stations’  live webcam to watch the events of the day.  At around 2pm (I believe), they were putting more people on pre-evacuation, so I called my mom to let her know because I knew she probably wasn’t home and if she was, she probably wasn’t watching TV!   She was out with my nephews so said she’d better get home to load stuff up again.  At 4pm, all hell broke loose!  I was watching the live webcam as events began to unfold.  All of a sudden, the wind changed direction and started blowing the fire towards Colorado Springs, and the neighborhoods that were right up against the mountain.  The TV people started announcing immediate, mandatory evacuations for people in those neighborhoods.  Once again I called my mom, but she was already aware and trying to get out.  My desk faces a wall that has a really high window facing the mountains.  All I could see was smoke and darkness.  By the time I got off work at 5pm, and walked to my car, it looked like the images following 9/11.  The sky was dark, there was ash in the air and it was just eery!

I knew we were going to be housing some evacuees as some of my daughter’s friends were in the area that was now on mandatory evacuation and had no place to go.  I stopped at Walmart on my way home to stock up on some food, and by the time I got there, I stepped out of my car and looked back at the mountains and there was nothing but smoke and you could see the glow of fire.  It was also raining ash in the parking lot, 10 miles away.  It looked like Armageddon had arrived in Colorado Springs.  When I got home, I turned on the TV and the images were devastating.  The fire had jumped a ridge and was now furiously racing down the hills into the neighborhoods.  Images of homes on fire, people fleeing from the area, and fire on the hillside were haunting.  As a photographer, I wanted to be near the action, to capture what would truly be an historic event.  Of course, getting near the fire zone was not possible.  So, that night we watched in horror as home after home after home were burned to the ground, waiting to hear of any details of what homes and neighborhoods had been devastated.

Cell lines were swamped and calls could not be made.  I tried to text my brother to make sure they had all gotten out and to my other brother’s home safely.  At about 8pm, I finally heard from him….someone had told them their home had been burned down.  My heart ached for them.  I thought about my two precious nephews and how the news would devastate them.  We all grieved at hearing they had lost their beautiful home.  He said when they left, the fire was racing down the hill behind them, and they cried as they drove away, knowing they would not have a home to go back to.  I prayed for them, and for so many others whose lives were about to be changed.  Tuesday night was a sleepless night for most of the people of Colorado Springs.

The following morning dawned and we all awakened to the devastating images that were now being released of the path the fire had taken.  Being the inquisitive person that I am, I started looking at fire maps and noticed that the area of my brother’s home, was not showing up in the fire path!  I called him to see if they were sure their home had burned down.  I told him what I was seeing, and he said that they had just been told by a neighbor, who was also a fireman, that their home was safe!  A little later, an image showed up on his phone of his home, safe and sound!  We rejoiced!

We knew that my parent’s home was fine because the fire had not gone down into their neighborhood.  The last home left was my parent’s home that my sister lived in.  Once again, I was searching the internet for images of the devastation and came across an image of my sister’s neighborhood…..almost totally gone!  A few homes were left standing, but for the most part, every home burned to the ground.  I sent the link to my brother and he verified it was my sister’s.  He was the one that delivered the news to her.

This is the photo I saw that verified the loss of my parent’s/sister’s house.  Photo by John Wark

In the end, nearly 350 families lost their homes.  Two people lost their lives.  Our courageous firemen and women spent countless hours saving the people of Colorado Springs even more devastation.  I can tell you, if it had not been for the first responders, firemen/women, police, military…there could have been a lot worse than it was.  I thank those men and women for the work they do, and have done.  I thank their families, that stay at home, while their loved ones put their lives on the line.

It was an event I will never forget, and hope to never have to live through again.  Every day, we look at the mountain and are reminded of what happened.  We see the side of the mountain that is black and treeless.  I will never again, in my lifetime, see the mountains the way they were before.  It is sad.  I leave you with these images that I took during the days of the Waldo Canyon Fire…

Smoke Plume, June 25th

The night of June 25th

Sunday night, June 25th

A whole neighborhood…looks like a bomb went off.

The neighborhood my sister lived in.

A page of a Bible…edges were scorched but the Word of God remains!

An old LP record album

Remains of someone’s Jeep

New life amongst the rubble

Old Glory…

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