(This is an updated post from July 17, 2012)
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I just can’t stop thinking about the devastation and loss of life caused by the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs and the surrounding mountains, an area I left 35 years ago. It used to look like this:
Ute Pass, looking toward the Continental Divide – May 2009 ©Roh Morgon
I spent two years in the Springs and the neighboring communities of Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, and Cascade. Just out of high school, my life was wild and carefree and filled with adventures. I loved the Pikes Peak mountain area and have always dreamed of returning someday.
Ute Pass above Colorado Springs – May 2009 ©Roh Morgon
Writers frequently use settings with which they are familiar. So when I began writing Sunny’s journey in January 2009, it seemed only natural that she would head to such an ideal location for someone of her unique nature.
As she drew me into her story, the sound of the wind in the trees echoed in my mind, and my nose filled with the fresh scents of pines and summer storms. I typed, fast and furious, knowing I was only capturing a fraction of the nuances that made up her world, and hoped my memory of the area wasn’t too rusty and faded.
And then in May 2009, when Watcher was nearly complete, I had a rare opportunity to visit the Springs while in Colorado on business. It would be my first visit in 35 years.
My friend Jeanne, with whom I’d first ventured to that magical land so many years before, still lived there. It felt like old times as we set off together to visit the locations in the story, to see if everything was as I recalled it.
And, surprisingly, it was. Even the Cascade house in which I’d lived, empty the day we visited, looked exactly as it did when I moved out. We tromped though old stomping grounds and made new discoveries (and found a castle!) and had an amazing time retracing Sunny’s steps.
It was with great sadness that I said farewell to Jeanne and Pikes Peak, promising I would return again when I had more time. The first draft of Watcher was completed two weeks later.
Now the area looks nothing like it did 35 years ago, or even three years ago. Sunny’s mountain and hunting area behind her house were completely destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire.
Photo by Jenny Bloom from Eagle Avenue in Manitou Springs
Photo by Kari Greer near Colorado Springs
But worse, people lost their homes, their pets, their family heirlooms – they lost everything they owned.
And two people lost their lives.
Photo by Kari Greer – Mountain Shadows subdivision, Colorado Springs
I’d actually been contemplating making a road trip to the Springs when I heard the news about the fire. It started June 23, and over the next two-and-a-half weeks, over 32,000 people were evacuated, more than 18,000 acres burned, 346 homes destroyed, and two people died. The estimated cost of this fire alone is $352.6 million dollars, making it the most expensive in Colorado’s history.
I can only imagine a glimmer of how those families must be feeling as they cope with their losses. My heart goes out to them, as well as to the forest and the creatures that it fed and sheltered.
Photo by Kari Greer – Humans weren’t the only ones who lost their homes
I don’t know if I’ll make that trip now. I can’t bear to see those mountains covered in ash, dotted with the black skeletons of trees and brush. Unfortunately, my imagination does paint a vivid picture of that scene. I know it’s nothing compared to the real thing.
Photo by Kari Greer – Over 18,000 acres were burned
But the devastation could have been worse. Hundreds of firefighters from all over the country risked their lives fighting this superfire and its deadly allies of blazing temperatures and rugged terrain. The valiant efforts of these men and women kept many more homes from being lost.
Photo by Kari Greer – Below Blodgett Peak with California’s Vandenberg Hotshots
Though the fire is no longer in the news, donations are still needed. Three hundred and forty-six families lost everything when their homes burned. If you’d like to help, there are a number of charitable organizations focused on the recovery from this horrendous disaster.
Colorado Springs Together also has suggestions for donors.
Humans weren’t the only victims of this fire. The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region took in well over 400 animals that were displaced by the fire. Many have been returned to their owners, but there are still a number of under shelter care until they can be reunited with their families.
Local agencies are critical in times of disaster and frequently exhaust their resources assisting people in need. The Waldo Canyon Firefighters Fund benefits the local fire stations whose hard work and expense fighting the fire saved many homes and lives.
Photo by Erik Eide, Cascade Volunteer Fire Department – Working on a hotspot
Photo by Erik Eide, Cascade Volunteer Fire Department
Photo by Kari Greer – Thank you sign in Mountain Shadows subdivision
Photo by Kari Greer – Overwhelming community support at the Incident Command Post
I leave you with this:
Photo by Kari Greer – A testament to the human spirit
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** As I mentioned in my last post, my own resources are limited. But I do write. Since Pikes Peak and the Colorado Springs area were such important parts of my novel, Watcher: Book I of The Chosen, I’m donating 50% of its net proceeds thru the end of October to help those suffering from this catastrophe. **