It's been a harrowing week.
I don't even know how to start this post...it's been very traumatic for all of the residents of my city. One week ago today, the Waldo Canyon fire began in a popular hiking area to the west of my city, and grew quickly to over 17,000 acres. Over 32,000 people had been evacuated, but now it's down to less than 6,000. As of today, 347 homes have been destroyed, and there were two fatalities, two bodies found in the rubble of one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods. It really felt like living in the middle of a nightmare. Thankfully, the fire is now 45 percent contained, which is fantastic news, considering it was only ten percent contained this past Thursday. They have been predicting that it will be fully contained by July fifteenth, but many are convinced that it will be quite a bit sooner considering the progress they have made over the last few days.
My neighborhood was evacuated this past Tuesday, when very strong winds forced the fire over a ridge and into the western-most neighborhood in the city. The fire traveled very quickly into several northwestern neighborhoods, surprising just about everyone. The extremely hot temperatures (think 100 plus), high winds, and just about no humidity whatsoever created a very scary situation for the northwestern part of the city, right where we live.
K and I had run a few errands and had gone to the mall to visit the pet store, and as we left, we noticed it had gotten much smokier, and darker, like dusk. Black smoke was pouring into the sky above us from just over the mountains in the near distance, and many people had gathered in the mall parking lot to watch and take pictures. We didn't think that much of it at the time since the wind had been moving smoke in various directions since Saturday, until we got into the car and heard on the radio that the smoke had gotten very thick in the Rockrimmon (our neighborhood) area, and police were starting to block it off. I headed home, getting increasingly worried as we drove up Woodmen Road towards the side road that would take us to our condo. As we started to drive uphill across a bridge a few blocks from our turnoff, traffic slowed to a crawl, and then to a stop. We were stuck on the bridge, two lanes in each directions, in bumper-to-bumper traffic at a dead stop.
All of a sudden I heard a siren behind us, and I looked and saw it was an ambulance with its lights and siren going. I couldn't imagine how it was going to get through. A few cars ahead of me, a man jumped out of his car and started furiously directing traffic, pointing at people to inch into the righthand lane, and showing people where to go in order to fit everyone into this lane or that one. He really was amazing, and I have no idea who he was. I swear, it looked like he was trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle, and I can hardly believe he did it. He had cleared out the middle lane to my right, and slowly but surely the ambulance inched by and picked up speed up the hill. In the meantime, we all were still stuck right where we were, and I had to make a lefthand turn up ahead. My heart sank as I saw that cars were just pouring out of Rockrimmon, coming towards me, and a lefthand turn seemed less and less likely. Police officers had started directing traffic up ahead, and to my horror, I saw that they seemed to be forcing all of the cars to make a u-turn and head down the hill. My condo subdivision was just up ahead to the left, and I realized that it was entirely possible that I wouldn't be able to get home at all. I felt relieved, though, when I saw a black pickup truck make the same turn that I wanted to, and I held my breath as I approached the intersection where I wanted to make a lefthand turn. At first the police officer wasn't going to let me, but at the last moment he seemed to say, "What the heck," and waved me onto the road I needed, that led to my subdivision.
I was quite shaky, considering the amount of smoke in the air, and lots of fine ash was falling all around us. Little one had fallen sound asleep in the car, which turned out to be a major blessing. I got her inside, and she continued to sleep after I laid her on the sofa. I was already planning to pack us up and leave because of the smoke, but once I turned on the TV, I saw that my whole neighborhood was under mandatory evacuation orders. The main thing I had been dreading since the fire started last Saturday. Fortunately we still had about an hour or so to get out...the TV broadcasters were saying that it wasn't exactly a "Leave now" situation, but that we had a little time to take care of things. It reminded me strongly of ten years ago this month, when I found myself in the middle of the Hayman fire situation. We were on standby evacuation for a while, which was stressful enough, but we ended up not having to leave at all. I still vividly remember that same smell of smoke in the air ten years ago that I've been smelling here for the past week. I always thought I loved that campfire smell, but now I'm sure it won't ever be a favorite again.
So how do you decide what to bring with you? It's like that age-old question, if your house were burning down, what one possession would you take with you? In this case, I had to pack up a Jeep Wrangler, which honestly doesn't hold that much, especially with a convertible rear-facing carseat in the back. I grabbed everything I could think of that I can't replace. All of the handmade quilts in K's room. A painting of my father that my mother painted years ago. A watercolor that I had done in tenth grade. Two framed cross-stitches that my late grandmother had made for me. K's birth certificate and social security card. All of the special photographs (and K's photo album) that I could find, including pictures of me and family members taken many years ago. One small-ish carry-on suitcase for several days' worth of clothes for K and myself. Snacks for K. And for symbolic reasons, the three tiny pots of baby seedlings, basil, strawberries, and daisies, that were just poking their heads above the dirt. I figured, hey, if I can keep them alive through all this, maybe things will be okay. I packed up the car, feeling jealous of my neighbors who were also packing up their belongings in TWO roomy cars, and feeling the urgency of the situation among all of us trying to evacuate at the same time. Scary as hell, I tell you. I secured the house, picked up a sleeping K and buckled her into her carseat, and got right out of Dodge. Traffic was so heavy out of Rockrimmon that they turned all four lanes of the bridge I had just driven over into four eastbound-only lanes. No one would be able to even try to drive up the hill over the bridge. Thank God we headed home from the mall when we did.
I followed the cars ahead of me, not having much choice in the matter, and lucked out...I ended up not taking the interstate, but instead followed the cars ahead of me onto a side road that somehow emptied out a bit, and headed south to my friend Julie's house. No gridlock whatsoever, unlike many others who were stuck in evacuating traffic for literally hours. Before we had left, I called Julie to let her know we were on our way, then my parents to tell them what was happening. At first I got my parents' machine, and I was very distressed to have to tell them we were evacuating in a message. But they called right back, and we were able to talk briefly. Once we were on the road, I basically cried all the way to Julie's house. I just didn't know what would happen, whether we would ever get to see our house again. As we were turning onto that side road I mentioned, I passed a police officer who looked at me and held my gaze, me with tears streaming down my face. For whatever reason, that was a moment I will remember, maybe because so much seemed to be said between us without even saying a word. Apparently the interstate was packed with cars as well...at that same time the Air Force Academy was being evacuated, and all of those cadets and families were heading south to Fort Carson, to the south. This picture was taken on Tuesday night, right when we were evacuating too. It looks so crazy that it must have been photoshopped, but I assure you, it wasn't.
We watched the coverage on TV at Julie's almost continuously, and the fire moved west quite rapidly. In the following picture you can see its progression, day by day. We evacuated on the 26th, which you can see showed the most growth in a day:
I don't know if you can see interstate 25 on this map, but it is on the far right, north to south, and I live right next to it, about halfway down the map. Thankfully the fire has basically stayed at the same distance from my neighborhood as it got on Tuesday. Starting this past Thursday, many of the mandatory evacuation orders were lifted, and we got to go home on Thursday night. The areas in orange and pink on the map are still evacuated, I believe. But largely, the yellow areas are only on pre-evacuation, including our neighborhood, which means we still need to have a bag packed and ready to go. I have packed it several times as K has chosen to unpack it a few times as well! But it's looking better and better that we won't have to evacuate again. I'm starting to relax more and more each day.
Here are a few more pictures of how things looked in different parts of my city on Tuesday:
Now, more and more, pictures of the aftermath have been released. It looks a lot like a post-apocalyptic movie set, and everyone is grieving for the families who lost everything (347 houses):
Our community really seems to have rallied and come together. I still cannot get over the donations that have poured in for not only the evacuees and the people who have lost their homes, but also for the true heroes, the firefighters. There are a few streets the firefighters use to get to and from the burn areas, and every day there are many, many residents who have stood there with signs and who have cheered as they passed by:
I cannot thank them enough. As big as this fire has been, they have worked their tails off to protect our neighborhoods and homes, and even though we lost 347 homes, it would have been much, much worse without their hard work and dedication. There were quite a few homes that weren't even touched, even as neighboring houses were a total loss. They couldn't save them all, but they saved so, so many that otherwise would have been gone. I for one am so thankful that our home is just fine. It's weird, but I really haven't wanted to leave our house for the past couple of days, considering we might not have been able to go back at all. It's amazing what you won't take for granted anymore after going through something like this. I know people who have lived here all their lives, and they have never seen something like this before. I still can't believe this fire was in my city, and that it came fairly close to my neighborhood. We are now at 45 percent containment, and things are looking good for getting it all contained sometime next week.
(Oh, and to add insult to injury, I found out on Wednesday, the morning of the first full day of evacuation, that my second iui didn't work. The last iui (first for T42) was last October. Due to all of the stress of the past week that will take a bit of time to fully go away, I am going to take July off and plan to try again in August. In a sense it was a blessing, because the fire really put things into perspective, and I wasn't as upset as I might otherwise have been. At least my home was okay! Things really looked promising, too...one big follicle that was all ready to go, the timing was quite perfect, and everyone, including me, seemed so optimistic about this month. Oh well. Like I said, it's all a matter of priorities, I guess. Better luck next time.)
Something else I am truly thrilled about is the fact that my good friend J is pregnant via donor embryo, and couldn't be more excited! She is due in early January, and things continue to look good for her. I really want to follow in her footsteps (but not with a donor embryo). I hope at some point it will work out for me and for K.
Please keep my entire city in your prayers, especially the families who have lost their homes. It's so easy to say, "Well, they're just things," but truly, they have lost sentimental things that have many memories associated with them, they've lost a sense of security, they have lost their home base, and their sense of "home". I can't imagine.
I will leave you with a recent pic of K at her very favorite place, the pool! She has been asking every day to go, but so far we haven't since last Saturday due to the smoke in the air. We'll see about tomorrow, since things are really starting to calm down. (I have really put off writing about this, but I have to say, it feels good to have gotten it all down in print. I have been processing a lot over the past several days, and this blog has really helped.)