Thursday, June 28, 2012

Safely Evacuated!

Tuesday, early evening, the Waldo Canyon Fire breached the final ridge between the fire and the neighborhood across from mine.  They claim the flames moved five miles in three minutes after jumping across two containment lines.  The culprit?  A thunderstorm behind the fire, which caused 65mph winds to carry the flames a massive distance.

My neighborhood was not even on pre-evacuation, which is basically a warning that the fire might be eying you for a future snack, so maybe pack a suitcase or something.  They had put the neighborhood across from ours, nestled directly against the west ridge of Queen's Canyon, on mandatory evacuation days before, and the one to their north on pre-evacuation alert, though most were at work.

At 3:43pm, I got the following photos from my street, having received a call from my oldest brother, recommending I get outside and look at the ridge:

Within 2 minutes, it looked like this:

I went home, still no evacuation orders, and started semi-calmly packing up some things, figuring we'd get a call to evacuate at any time, and that, either way, we were leaving as soon as my husband got home.  Sirens sounded from multiple directions as emergency responders converged on the Mountain Shadows neighborhood across from me.

At 4:00pm, our daily afternoon update was occurring (I was NOT watching the television).  At about 4:15, as my husband was leaving work due to this smoke coasting over his place of employment, the mayor was pulled aside, then promptly strode to the microphone and initiated a mandatory evacuation of the surrounding neighborhoods (skipping ours).

At about 4:20 or so, the wind suddenly hit our neighborhood.  The smoke was so thick you could only see about two houses down.  Ashes began to rain down like snow.  They got progressively larger and blacker, having started out a gentle dove gray in color.  The smoke became suffocating.  I began throwing items into the back of my car in armloads, giving up on packing.  I sent my children, 4 and 7 years old, on errands around the house as I packed, frantically trying to field calls and texts as both the house phone and my cell phone blew up, concerned family and friends asking me if I was evacuating, because they could see the flames from other areas.

A little after 4:30, my neighbors all packing up their belongings, just as I was, my husband texted me that he was trying to get home, but streets were blocked.  I received a call from a friend at about the same time, asking me if I was evacuating.  My panicked response, telling her ash and embers were falling and Jeff couldn't get home to me, was enough to cause her to leave a client in her chair (she's a hairdresser), jump in her truck and haul ass to my house to help me pack some things up.  She made it there before my husband and helped me get things into the car and her truck.  She also helped me calm the kids, who were now aware we were evacuating and were utterly terrified.

I'm not sure what time my husband got home, but he had to double back and circle around another way to get home.  I think it was probably only about 10 minutes after my friend got here.  We grabbed the cat, called goodbyes to our neighbors as they, too, got into their cars, some taking photos as they went (I didn't get a chance), and I took off to get the kids out of the smoke - it had begun filling our house, despite the hardworking air conditioner and filter.  My husband and friend stayed behind to salvage a few more things.

I waved goodbye to a few more neighbors, no idea whether I'd see them again.  Sound was eerily muffled, and the scene was like something out of Dante's Peak. 

By the time I got off my street, heading a back way to get to a street light because my husband said I'd never get out the other way, there was a line of cars evacuating, with other cars speeding past me in the opposite direction to get to their homes and grab their loved ones, pets and important items.  It took several lights to pull out into the traffic on the larger road, and I was forced to pull into the far lane, not the one I needed to be in, or be the jerk that would clog up the road and not allow people behind me through.  I was unable to get over to turn where I needed, so I had to go forward and double back through a shopping center, then bull my way across three lanes of traffic to get to my husband's boss's house, only to find it was awful up there, as well, and they were evacuating (by choice, like us).  They stayed with me until my husband could get there, our phone service cutting out because all circuits were busy.  I didn't know where my husband and friend were, if they were okay, if they were on their way, until one phone call finally burst through.  It took over an hour for my husband and friend to get the same distance I had gone, though in the opposite direction, because when they tried to go the route I had, they found traffic about five times more backed up than when I'd left.  They had to drive directly past open flames on the opposite side of the road, from what we now believe to have been a spot fire that was put out not long after they passed them. 

At 6:54pm, my cell phone rang at the same time as my husband's boss's.  It was the reverse 911 call, telling us to evacuate.  Too little, too late.

I had tried to call my parents, who live close to me, as I was sitting at that first light, but the phone was cutting in and out and finally dropped the call entirely.  I was able to get through again briefly when I got the reverse 911 call, to insure they'd gotten it and were leaving.  They had actually been rousted by an official knocking on their door, insisting they get out in 5 minutes.  They were on their way out, only enough time to grab their dogs and go.  I got a text from my sister that my mother was having a horrible asthma attack, and that her inhaler wasn't working.  By this time, I was clear across town, too far away to do anything.  My middle brother, whose house they had met at, was on the phone with 911.  An ambulance was able to get through, and my mom is okay now. 

We were lucky, because we had a friend we could stay with.  Others weren't so lucky.  Many evacuees are staying at emergency shelters.  We are okay, and have now moved to a hotel in a city 38 miles south of Colorado Springs to get away from the ever-present wall of smoke, and burning acrid stench of it, which chased us all the way to our friend's house.  My parents and oldest two brothers were evacuated from their homes, as well.  All are safe, at this time.  My parents are with friends, my oldest brother is, as well, and my middle brother is in a hotel.  My youngest brother and sister are out of harm's way for the time being.

The area of the fire tripled on the day we were evacuated.  Tripled.  Because of one thunderstorm.

Now we wait and see, and hope like mad for rain or a miracle.  We get updates twice per day, once in the morning, once around 4pm, telling us where the fire is, and hoping to hear that our home is okay.  We've signed up for a notification that is supposed to tell us if our house is one of the ones burned.  So far, hundreds of houses have burned, and the Flying W Ranch, an iconic part of our community, was completely burned down.  I'd had plans with friends to go there Thursday.

Despite the terrible cost to land and, now, homes, no lives have been lost.  Not in civilians or firemen.  I'm grateful for the hard work of every group involved in fighting the fire, getting people to safety, and feeding and caring for those who are now homeless, either temporarily or permanently.  I am also very appreciative of the news outlets, who have done an excellent job of keeping us informed when they can.

As far as we know, a certain road is acting as a firebreak, keeping the fire at bay away from our neighborhood.  However, they say embers are flying up to 1/2 mile, and that 65% of them are starting spot fires, so they are maintaining crews in the area to put out spot fires, as well as keeping a police presence to discourage looters.

I guess this is my really long-winded way of telling you that I know I didn't post a [Mostly] Wordless Wednesday post, and I'm not sure when I will again.  I'm hoping they can get the fire past 5% contained and that I can eventually go home.  In the meantime, we are deciding on a daily basis what to do and where to stay.  By the time you read this, we will likely be in day 3 of our evacuation, having fled our home on Tuesday.

I will try to get back to regularly scheduled posts when we have achieved some sense of permanence, whether that means we're back home or we're at least still in the same place (this hotel).  Now that we've got wi-fi again, maybe I can at least do a little catching up on visiting and commenting in the evenings.

Stay safe, and thank you to those of you who commented on Monday's post wishing us well.  Stay safe.

May you find your Muse.

P.S. You writers out there will be relieved to hear that we got the vast majority of my writing out, including the hard drive from my Mac, which holds my novel and WIPs.  I also got out the vast majority of my photos.  I hope to find that it never mattered whether I got that stuff out, because my house is okay.  My community, however, will never be the same.  The face of it has changed in its entirety.  I'm heartbroken at the loss.


Paul Anthony Shortt said...

That's absolutely terrifying. My thoughts will be with you and everyone else waiting for this to end.

Unknown said...

Shannon, Shannon... Just yesterday my boss showed us a picture of some of the devastation, saying, "Girls, count your blessings every day."

I am so relieved to know you and your family are safe. Yes, what a blessing that no one has lost their life, and for those fighting these monstrous acts of nature. True heroes, the lot of them.

You're in my prayers, dear. Be well.


Unknown said...

I'm glad that you and your loved ones are okay, Shannon. Keeping various bits of me crossed that your house will be okay too.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Shannon, glad you took the initiative and started packing and that your family all escaped. Praying for rain and containment of the fire. And that you will return to a house intact.

Tonja said...

Wow. That's terrifying. Great that you all are safe. Thoughts and prayers for you.

Karen Baldwin said...

So glad you and your family are safe. Please keep us updated. When I see the news footage now, it will no longer have faceless, nameless people in it.

KC Weldon said...

Glad you got out okay. I've been wondering since I saw the fire had spread east. Absolutely heartbroken over the Flying W myself. My fam has celebrated so many important milestones there over the years.

D.G. Hudson said...

Very glad to hear you and family are okay. We saw writeups in our newspaper here in Vancouver, Canada and you're the first thing I thought about, having read your earlier post.

That's what I call on the spot reporting, Shannon. Great job! Stay safe.

DL Hammons said...

Crap! That just plain sucks!!

Julie Kazimer said...

I'm so glad that you're safe and that your poor mom is all right. What a terrible experience. Please let me know if you need anything. I'm amazed by your braver and sanity.

Nick Wilford said...

I'm glad that you got out and no lives were lost. It must have been a shattering experience.

Anonymous said...

Shannon, so glad that you and all of your family members are safe. Will keep you all in my prayers. It's a good thing you took the initiative to get out. I couldn't imagine what it would have been like if you had waited for the reverse 911 call to come in.

J E Fritz said...

I'm glad you and your family are safe. It's just so sad that all this is happening. I hope everyone gets through it all okay.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I'm so glad to hear you - and everyone - are okay. I can't even begin to imagine something so terrifying. My thoughts are with you.

Rebecca said...

my prayers are with you

Shannon Lawrence said...

Thank you, everyone! I'm home safely, though still on pre-evacuation status, which just means to keep an eye on things and not unpack everything, basically.

Andrew Leon said...

That question of what to grab if you only had moments has come up a lot since this fire of yours. My writing would be my priority since I don't keep it stored anywhere out of my house. I have back up discs, but those are, of course, in my house. I may have to re-think how where/how I store.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Andrew, we are rethinking how we do things, as are my parents. We're considering a safety deposit box where we will store our important documents (or maybe just copies - we're not sure yet) and backups from our computers/servers. Not every disaster gives a person time to grab hard drives and such.