Catty-corner

Police blocking the entrance into the Mountain Shadows area.

We are still under mandatory evacuation, but the fire is already 45% contained! It’s getting easier to be more and more optimistic.

Currently our little corner of a neighborhood is still just barely in the mandatory evacuation zone – partly because it is so close to the burn zone, and partly because CS Utilities has not yet verified that the gas mains are safe and operating. But earlier today I was out and about with my friends Sarah and Polly (both of whom also were evacuated but had their evacuations lifted yesterday) and we decided to drive up to the parking lot that was catty-corner to my neighborhood and look across the intersection at my complex. I could not see our specific building, but I could see that all the town homes were standing and looked normal. It was very encouraging.

Tomorrow we do get to visit our house. We cannot move back in, they are just temporarily lifting the mandatory evacuation order between 10am and 6pm so we can go in and look at the state of our houses. I’m expecting some soot because our house isn’t the most tightly sealed, and maybe a few small critters that fled inside to get away from the flames. We’ll be assessing any damage, taking pictures, emptying our fridge of the ruined food (since the building has had no electricity since Tuesday), and watering our plants. We may grab a few more things just in case the fire comes back. (Why not?)

Our townhome complex. You can’t see our specific building here, but all the buildings around it look perfectly normal from this distance. The hills behind our neighborhood, however, have definitely changed.

All that to say, I’m excited and optimistic, but also pretty nervous. It will be so nice to see the inside of our own house again, but we’re still not sure what we’ll find there. It will be encouraging to see that it’s still there and (hopefully) fairly normal, but also frustrating to have to leave again by 6:00. So many mixed emotions… they say it could still be weeks until the gas mains are secured and capped off – that is, weeks before they let us back in permanently.

Still here we are living one day at a time. I’m reminded again: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” ~Proverbs 3.5-6

Life Goes On

Yesterday was a huge day for closure. Those who lost their homes had their losses confirmed. Many of the evacuations were lifted and thousands of people went back home. And we received the awful, sad announcement last night that a body had been found. The fire had claimed a life.

Moreover, this morning the news about the fire itself was positive: the humidity in the air is helping, the wind is letting up, the fire is 15% contained, the total acreage decreased from over 18,000 to around 15,000. Things are looking positive again.

It’s still not over though. The media keeps reminding us that there’s an “active” wildfire out there. There are still smoldering hot spots, even in the Mountain Shadows area. Many of us from those neighborhoods still can’t return home – and may not be able to for a while yet. At the very least, our houses have had no utilities since Tuesday (which makes me dread cleaning the milk, eggs, cheese out of our fridge…) and will not have natural gas for a long time because of the safety checks required before it is turned back on in the area.

The entire affected area still needs to be surveyed for damage, structural stability, hot spots, and (hopefully no more) remains.

Yet, life moves on around us. We’re still crashing in our friends’ guest room. Austin’s still working on evaluating whether his store can open back up. We’re still hanging on the announcements of the press conferences throughout the day. We’re still anticipating smoke or water damage to our (thankfully) still-standing house.

But last night, after the most somber presscon so far with the announcement of a casualty, I saw the first sports reports in days. It felt so out of place, so ordinary. Almost silly. I had forgotten that daily life has gone on around the rest of the world because our world has been so consumed by the minute-by-minute details of this fire for almost a week now.

But it was a ray of hope. Something as small and simple as a sports report. It’s a news segment I never watch in real life – if I watch the news I’ll catch the headlines and the weather and then change the channel. But I watched it last night because it reminded me of the light at the end of the tunnel, that it’s getting closer.

There has been so much bad news and so much good news. Thousands of lives have been forever drastically changed. And still life goes on. We look forward to the swift containment of the fire, to the return to our homes, to the rebuilding of what has been lost.

And we cannot thank our firefighters enough. Truly, they are our superheroes.

 

Big Sigh

I am exhausted. I slept until about 10:45 this morning, and just awoke from a nap this afternoon.

We have reason to believe our house is actually still standing. The aerial photo below is the most recent picture we have of our neighborhood. It is a very small crop from a large aerial picture that does show many of the 346 homes that were destroyed in a mere matter of hours on Tuesday. The image is breath-taking, devastating. I intentionally cropped out the homes so near to ours that were destroyed. I feel like that is not my image to publish. It’s too personal. It seems like it should be more private, not displayed all over the place.

The most recent image of our neighborhood.

I have very mixed feelings right now. I’ve already been through so much of the grieving process. I’ve been living with the very firm assumption that our house was burned to the ground. And now suddenly – hooray it’s there. As crazy as this might sound, it would almost be easier if it wasn’t. This fire is finally 10% contained, but they are predicting it will take until July 23 to contain all of it. The weather conditions are still not incredibly favorable for the firefight. Anything could still happen. Though it is standing today, there is no guarantee our house will be safe from the blaze tomorrow, or the next day. That sounds bleak, I know. I’m sorry I’m not more optimistic.

Now what do we do? We can’t go home yet. The area’s not open and we have no idea when it will be. Just because the building isn’t burnt to rubble doesn’t mean there isn’t smoke damage or damage from water or fire retardant. We also know that there have been a handful of opportunity crimes: theft and property damage within the evacuation zones. We just have no idea.

I certainly will be grateful not to lose the things we left behind. Over the last 24 hours, we’ve remembered this gift or that souvenir that we forgot to grab. At the same time, do we really want to live in an area where there is a constant visual reminder around us of our experiences this week? Can we even break our lease and move if we want to?

I have so many more questions today than I did yesterday. I’m thankful and hopeful, but cautious and hesitant and conflicted.

I also grieve for those who will be at a private meeting tonight, finding out for certain that there is nothing left of their houses and belongings. Finding out that they have no home to return to. I cannot imagine what that meeting will be like. I hope and pray that the media standing outside the door will treat those families with incredible respect and compassion as they go in and come out tonight.

Again, thank you so much for the prayers and messages and calls. We are so blessed to have such wonderful friends and family.

My Help Comes From the Lord

I lift my eyes up to the hills.

The fire above our beloved city.

From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD
Who made heaven and earth.
~Psalm 121.1, 2

We’ve had so many people offer prayers and condolences. Many of them said they just couldn’t imagine what we’re going through. Honestly, I don’t know if I could truly describe it in words, but I thought I’d try.

This experience has gone through many stages – for me, most of them emotional. For you counselors out there who’ve been reading, you’ve probably recognized the stages of grief. On Saturday when we first evacuated, I was in denial. We packed everything and got out, but my attitude was optimistic. I thought there would be no way our house would burn, we’d be just fine. In a day or two we’d move back home and everything would go back to normal. Just a minor blip of disturbance on the otherwise stable pattern of life.

And we did move back home Monday night, which increased my confidence that we would be just fine. Tuesday, though, when the fire began acting up, I began to experience fear, distress, severe anxiety. I had the first (two) anxiety attacks of my life.

I also began to experience extreme anger and frustration. I paced around our house as I was packing things up fuming and ranting and blaming everyone and everything for the way I was feeling. “I’m upset because so-and-so hasn’t called and checked on me yet,” or “I want to scream because national news is a joke and isn’t covering this,” and “These stupid winds are so unfair.”

I went back and forth between these two emotions like a roller coaster for several hours. One moment I would be screaming and crying in anger and frustration at something. The next I was paralyzed with panic – especially when I first saw the flames pop over the ridge toward our neighborhood.

Finally last night I was overcome with sadness. The anger and fear have dulled away and I’m mourning the loss of the beauty of our landscape, the loss of our neighborhood, possibly the loss of our house, definitely the loss of our comfort and stability and routine.

The town homes in the front half of the picture are where we live. The flames and smoke look like CG, but I promise they are very real.

And then there is the wrestling with imagination and questions. I had to fight to stop thinking through every room in our house last night – picturing the things we left behind, imagining what they would look like as they burn. The flames are too big. The fire too imminent. The questions too big. I’ve avoided asking the question “Why?” It’s just too big of a question.

The questions I do allow myself to ask are questions of moving forward. We are assuming, for the sake of coping, that our house is in fact gone – though we have no way to confirm that right now. Many structures have burned. Many have been saved. We have no way to know which ones are which. I look forward to the “upward turn” stage of grief: the rebuilding, the hope, and the vision for life beyond the loss. We’re starting to work through questions like, “Where will we live?” “Will Austin’s store still be standing and what will work look like for him?” “What will we focus on replacing first?” “How helpful will our insurance be?” It’s hard not even being able to picture our furniture in a new place.

Yet. God is so faithful. I’ve had three passages running through my mind over and over during these hardest hours in my life. I put one at the top. I do keep lifting my eyes to the blazing hills. It’s so easy to despair when your home looks like a special effects scene in an apocalypse movie. (As my husband pointed out, though, props to all the special effects teams out there – we never realized just how realistic those unbelievable scenes are.) Yet I know God is the maker of all heaven and earth. He knows every inch of this fire. He knows every fuel source. He knows the complete path of destruction, the total loss, every particle of smoke, and the name of every one of the 1000+ firefighters, the name of every one of the 32,000+ evacuees and their pets and belongings – even the number of hairs on each of their heads. He is good. He helps his people. He will be glorified.

Our sermon on Sunday was on the Lord’s prayer – often a mantra that we repeat without thinking through. It has become so real and personal. Our Father – you know us, love us, care for us, mourn with us, empathize with us, comfort us. Who art in heaven – you know all, see all, control all, understand all, work all to your purposes and good. Give us our daily bread – we cry out for even physical provision, we depend on you for our most basic of needs, we cannot survive a moment without your help, your provision. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – there is a reason, a plan, a purpose, this is not wasted or random or meaningless.

Finally, the entire book of Job – which I have never been able to really connect with – has become intimately, uncomfortably personal. He lost everything, suddenly, without an explanation. And I’m learning to say with him, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1.21)

Finally, we are overwhelmed with how God works through his people. We are so loved, so cared for, so provided for, so comforted, encouraged, and prayed for. Despite losing so much, we want for nothing.  Even people as far away as Seattle, the South, and Canada have offered whatever help they can give. All of you, you are truly the hands and feet of God working in our lives right now. God bless you for your hearts and may he hear your prayers on our behalf.

Home Sweet Home

We finally decided to come back to our house last night. Our house is no longer in the mandatory evacuation zone, so we felt safe enough to sleep in our own bed again. We still left most of our packed stuff in cars across town, and we have our stuff here packed and ready to go just in case there’s a sudden change in the fire and we have to get out again.

It’s a relief to be home again. We have wonderful friends we could stay with – a place to relax, not feel like guests, a place to be distracted. But there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed and cooking in your own kitchen.

The emotional roller coaster is still going, however. As we drove back toward the house last night, I began to feel fear and apprehension for the first time. The “what ifs” can be haunting. I’ve also noticed a growing anger. It seems petty, but I get frustrated that such a big event in our personal lives goes almost unknown and ignored by the rest of the world. It’s not healthy for me to look at Facebook right now – is it really possible that all these people don’t know or care about the biggest natural disaster event in our country right now? Is it possible they aren’t aware or concerned about the thousands of people who had to flee their homes? I’m annoyed that the people in the South facing Tropical Storm Debby are complaining about the rain, because we need the rain here so desperately.

I feel selfish, because while I received some amazing and encouraging calls and messages from people wanting to know how we’re doing, I also am extremely disappointed that others I thought cared said not so much a word. Not even a quick “how are you?” Is that selfish?

In such unsteady, uncertain circumstances, it was good to be reminded the other day that God really is in control. He knows every inch of that fire. He knows every direction it will go, every second it will burn, every structure it will avoid or destroy. And he will not allow an inch more to burn than he wants to. I was reminded I can trust him, that he is in fact using this disaster not only for good, but to glorify himself. That is encouraging.

Still Burning

Flames above the city last night.

It’s been three days, two nights, since the Waldo Canyon Fire began. Three days, two nights, since we evacuated our home. Still it rages on. As of last night at 11pm, the fire had spread to 3,446 acres. Just seconds ago, we heard it is now, finally, 5% contained. The smoke billows up in large plumes, filling the sky. Aside from the smoke, there is still no cloud cover. For the fourth day in a row we’ve had record high temperatures, dangerously low humidity, gusts of wind up to 40 miles per hour. We hoped for the thunderstorms last night, but they brought no rain – only lightning and more wind.

The poignant emotions from the first day have dulled into a constant, low-level restlessness. Our house is on the edge of the current evacuation zone, so we wrestle with whether or not we should stay where we are until the fire is a little better contained, a little more predictable. It is still too close for comfort.

The outpouring of help and resources from all over the nation is incredible. Once again, being one of the statistics of the current big catastrophe in the nation is surreal. Yesterday there were 11,000 or so of us displaced. They did open Manitou back up last night, though, and they’re estimating that only 6,000 or so of us are still out of our homes.

There are many things to be thankful for, despite the circumstances. Still no structures have been destroyed. Still no firefighters have been hurt. And the stories of people helping out – especially the unfortunate tourists who found themselves evacuated out of their Manitou hotels at 1 in the morning the other night – are inspiring.

There are many things to be praying for: the continued safety of those fighting the fire. The continued protection of the homes and lives of the displaced. The restrictive weather patters that are making fighting efforts difficult for the C-130’s and other aircraft, which are supposed to drop water and slurry on the fire. And we desperately need rain, cloud cover, cooler temperatures, and humidity.

I cannot say thank you enough to all the people who are concerned, helping, praying, encouraging. You truly have no idea how much it means to us.

Last night’s infrared map. Our house is in the roads visible on the map to the right of the fire area.

Waldo Canyon Fire: A Firsthand Experience

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t imagine that by the end of the day we would have packed all our valuables into our cars and evacuated our home, possibly leaving it to the mercy of the flames.

It’s been a surreal experience. All afternoon as we were packing and taking insurance pictures and figuring out where we would go tonight, I had the cliche old scenario running through my head: “If your house caught on fire and you had 10 minutes, what would you take with you?” Of course, every good Sunday School student would answer with “Bible!” and then, inevitably, the teacher would tell us we had to pick something else. I never thought that I’d have to make those kinds of decisions in real life. Yet here I am.

It’s a strange feeling. We’re watching the news coverage right now, and they keep mentioning the 1200+ evacuees, asking people to keep them in their thoughts and prayers tonight. In the past, those numbers never really touched me. The disasters seemed remote, impersonal. Now I’m one of those 1200. And our home, realistically, could burn tonight.

In some ways, I was confronted with my extreme materialism. I’ve never considered myself a sentimental person until today. It’s amazing what I wrestled over packing or leaving. What books I felt I needed to take, and which I could leave. Which sentimental childhood toys I couldn’t part with – even though they’ve just been sitting in a box for over a year now. The pictures I took down off the walls and packed into boxes. Our skiis and snowboard, SCUBA equipment… it’s all just stuff right? But then it would also be a hassle to replace. And then the irreplaceables: wedding photos, financial documents and licenses, and certificates, heirlooms.

You know, I’ve been through several emotions today. I had a bit of a panic moment when I stepped outside to get the mail this afternoon. I noticed there was something different, and finally realized that it was the orange tint lingering in the air. I looked up to what looked like a plume from a volcano. And it was close – just over the ridge that’s less than a mile from our house. I’ve been overwhelmed by the enormity of the packing decisions we had to make, which took hours this afternoon. I’ve been concerned for close and loved friends on our side of town who may need help evacuating. I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, offers of help, invites to stay the night, thoughts, well wishes, and prayers.

I have not been afraid or worried or anxious. Even if the worst should happen and our house burn down, I know we’re taken care of. But I’m still praying for rain.

They’re saying now that the earliest the evacuation would be lifted is 8:00pm tomorrow. I wonder what tomorrow holds, what will happen next in our lives.

Once again, I’m learning in a very real, tangible way what it means to trust God every day.

-meg

View of the fire from our townhome complex early this afternoon, when the fire was only 150 acres. It’s now over 2000 acres and still 0% contained.