Black Forest Fire Begins

Waldo Canyon Fire 6-27-12It was lunchtime on June 11, 2013 and I was listening to Jerri Marr speak on leadership and courage.

Jerri is Supervisor of the 3.5 million acres of Pike and San Isabel national forests and Comanche and Cimarron national grasslands in Colorado. She was also the U.S. Forest Service’s face and voice of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire public communications effort. That catastrophe caused two deaths, destroyed 347 homes and burned over 18,000 acres.

Her message was inspiring: “Life’s experiences and memories have an emotional impact. Fear is an invitation to be courageous. But we don’t have to let a crisis define us – it’s just a window to see who you are and what you’re made of. The dark side of fear is worry and the light side is courage. Crisis gives you something to overcome and strengthens character.”

She added, “Don’t wait for the big one to build muscle memory – we must train ourselves and practice responding the way we ‘plan to play’. The small crises teach us just as much as the big ones. And not having an answer to every question is not a challenge to your leadership. Saying ‘I don’t know’ will set you free! Be willing to make a decision and don’t waffle. Stand by it. Confidence is contagious and the first and last task of a leader is to keep hope alive.”

I took notes and I’m glad I did, for her words would come in handy in the days ahead.

On my way home I looked north and spotted a smoke plume about four miles west of my place. I saw flames shooting up into the sky, climbing the tinder dry trees at the edge of the forest. I remember thinking, “I hope someone has called that in – it looks evil.” It took about five minutes to reach my log cabin home and not long after, I saw fire crews race down the road.

It never occurred to me the situation would grow serious. I kept thinking, “They’ll put it out. It won’t be long and they’ll have it under control.” I got on my computer and tweeted to the @KOAA_5 folks, “There is also a fire burning in Black Forest near Shoup and west of Holmes Rd”. They quickly responded, “We have a crew on the way to the scene”. Then I called my Mom to let her know about the fire. At this point, I’m still sitting at my desk – no big concerns – no sense of urgency. It was about 2 pm.

A friend called. He’d seen the flames and tried to drive straight over, but they’d already closed the west end of our road. So he found a way around and after arriving, explained how bad it looked. My daughter called from her job at the corner store across the road and said, “Mom, they’re evacuating Shoup Road. You’d better get out!” We turned on the TV and saw the first evacuation notices.

Despite all this, I still didn’t think the fire would reach us. But just in case, I reached for an overnight suitcase and looked through my closet. Hesitation. What to take? I grabbed enough clothes to last a few days and joked about leaving my winter coats behind. My friend joked about taking my collection of plastic Smurf cartoon figures. I packed the box of Smurfs, my Grandmother’s ring, a few pieces of valuable jewelry, my silver baby rattle, the phone charger and important papers from the filing cabinet.

Evacuation Items

I looked for our homeowners insurance policy but couldn’t find it and didn’t want to take time to search. I told my son to gather things that were important to him and started to put photo albums in the trunk of the car.

At 3:04 pm I tweeted, “Lots of traffic heading out of Black Forest on Shoup Rd. #BlackForestFire. Packing up!” Then I unplugged the computer.

All this time the phone was ringing with calls from concerned friends wanting to know if we were okay. I remember talking on the cell phone and the land line at the same time trying to sound calm. I called my daughter back to find out when she was leaving the store, feeling guilty she wasn’t with me – that I didn’t have her under my “wing” in this time of urgency. She was okay. They’d close the corner store and BBQ once the police told them to leave. Then she’d head straight back to Colorado Springs. I made her promise to call me once she was on her way. She was just as worried about me as I was of her.

I moved through the house like in a dream – slow, steady, deliberate. I collected kitty litter and cat food. My son washed out the litter box. He grabbed Snickers and I grabbed Missy. Both cats started to moan and meow, which added some tension to the moment. But there was no panic. We took one last look around the house, locked the door and headed for the car. We both gaped up at the black, billowing clouds piling up over the cabin. Orange streaks tinged the base of the clouds and a blustery wind blew hot air into our faces. I hadn’t felt fear until that moment. It was about 4:30 pm. We were glad to be leaving and happy we hadn’t waited any longer.

On June 12th I tweeted, “Evacuated due to #BlackForestFire. Safe and sound. Thanks to those who have expressed concerns. Cabin might be gone.”

Cabin

Comments

  1. Kay Summerville says:

    Still praying for you Laura … what is your most current/immediate need? I’d like to help as I’m sure some others would too.

    Kay

    • LJBenjamin says:

      Thank you Kay! We are doing well, thanks to support from family and friends like you! Keep the prayers coming and please forward this blog to friends. I also welcome speaking opportunities, especially on the topic of “Change”. (go figure!) You are the best, Kay. Thank you for being a loyal reader and friend!

  2. Lots of thoughts & prayers are with you, Laura!

  3. WOW, great to hear the story. Cabin was so cute, and will be again!!! I am glad you are safe. God is in control…how interesting you were (that day) listening to leadership and courage…..God was telling you how to act! I continue to pray that you are comforted through all of this and know that “HE” is in control, and watching over you all.

    • LJBenjamin says:

      Thanks Willie, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. You are right, God IS in control and there are many good things that have come from this “adventure”. I also believe Jerri Marr’s inspiring words were meant to prepare many of us in that room for future challenges, although no one could have anticipated another fire of that magnitude quite so soon! Thank you for your encouraging words Willie. It was great to meet you in Vail at CMCA!

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