Bittersweet Homecoming

Home sweet home. Part two. Hopefully the last part. We visited our home today and were amazed at what we found. It was like nothing at all had happened. The garage smelled a bit smoky, but barely, and I noticed nothing inside the house. I keep walking around smelling the furniture, the towels, the carpets, the shades. Nothing. It smells like a house. No more, no less. And during our visit today, we found out we could come home tonight after 8. Permanently. Finally. So here we are.

What we found when we came home. Aside from the fact that it looks like we robbed ourselves, the house was just a house. Hubby’s reading the utilities info that was tacked to our front door.

It is dumbfounding to us how supernaturally ordinary our house was today. We were anticipating soot, ash, smoke, and an awful mess in the fridge and freezer, but as my husband is reading in the notice in the above picture, we found out that we had not lost utilities long enough for the food in our fridge to go bad. There is some food that we will need to throw away – food that was sitting out, so we don’t trust it in case smoke did get into our house at some point and then air out over the week. Our water is clean and drinkable, our electricity and AC are back on. The only utility missing is natural gas – read that “hot water.” But we anticipate having someone come by tomorrow during the day to help us turn that back on. Incredible.

We are technically still on “pre-evacuation notice” again. This means that even though the fire is 55% contained and they are confident in the fire line built on our side of the ridge, this fire is still active and not truly predictable. We still need to be ready to pack up and evacuate at a moment’s notice. It’s such a relief to be home, but can you blame us for leaving our clothes and toiletries out and ready? We’re just not quite ready to fully put everything away…

Packed and ready to go.

We also used the opportunity during the visit this afternoon to take a walk through our neighborhood, and then briefly drive through the rest of Mountain Shadows while it was still open. Many parts of the area went back into mandatory evacuation this evening, so we wanted to know what had happened while we still had a chance to check it out. What we saw was sobering.

I took a few pictures, but at the same time I sought to treat this area with enormous compassion and respect. For that reason, I’ll refrain from posting most of the pictures, and just show you a few to give you a very basic idea.

The first thing we noticed was how close the nearest burned out house was. This is the only picture of a house I will post, and I beg of you not to link it and share it with others out of respect for the family that lost it. The only reason I want to put it here is to show you how close it came to our own. As we walked to the back of our complex, we saw this:

Moreover, we stopped to consider what “blocked” the fire from our own town homes. The fire came up to that fence, and it stopped there. All that was between a devastating, house-destroying fire and our own complex was this:

This small drainage ditch is all that was between the closest burned out house and our own town home complex.

It is as if God put his hand there and said, “No further.” I can’t imagine why. I don’t understand why their house burned and ours didn’t. I have to admit, I’m going through some weird version of survivor’s guilt. I almost feel guilty that I’m able to sit at home on my own couch tonight when they can never return home. My heart breaks for them.

I also looked down and noticed burned leaves. It stopped me short as we walked. I just didn’t expect them.

Burnt leaves.

Finally, I would love to show you a picture of just how scorched the ground is. These beautiful hills used to be covered with the most amazing evergreen forest. The trails and views throughout these ridges were breath-taking. Now they are heart-breaking. I look forward to the regrowth. I know that just a few years from now it will be even more beautiful than before. Fire has a way of cleansing and resetting. For now, however, it is a sad sight.

I’ll leave you with an image of hope. As we drove back out of the neighborhood, we saw these signs painted on torn-down sections of fencing. We are truly grateful to all the firefighters. It was so clear today that they saved our home. They really are our heroes.

So what’s next? I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I feel housework deprived. I’ll spend the next several days deep-cleaning everything, rearranging furniture, getting the house back to a normal state. And I plan to get rid of a lot. For example, I left behind quite a bit of clothing and two full boxes of books, hoping they would burn so that I could get the insurance money. I figure, if I need that stuff so much that I actually wish for it to burn, it’s time to pack it all up and donate it to Good Will or something where people who do want it can get it. Going through an evacuation like this kinda inspires one to simplify.

I’m also going to spend a lot of time reflecting. I saw the face of a man today who visited the rubble of his burned out home. He clutched one small, charred mug in his hands – like it was the only thing he could recover – even though it wasn’t important enough to him to take it during the evacuation. His face will haunt me. His sorrow. His clinging to the only thing left from his former life there. I don’t know his name but I find myself in desperate prayer for him.

I also need to work through my own mixed emotions. I still can’t really believe our house is here and in almost perfect condition; I was so sure it was gone. Someone at church this morning put it perfectly when she said it was like God asked us to give it all up, and then gave it all back. I never faced death but it’s like I have a new chance at life. I want to really make an effort to get to know my neighbors. We all have this common experience now – there’s something to build on. Another friend had the great idea to hold a neighborhood picnic. Give people the chance to get together, meet each other, and share their stories. Like me, so many others who have had these experiences this week just want to tell their stories to someone – someone who understands, someone who isn’t going to talk about that fire they heard about ten years ago in Arizona, someone who also cried and feared and grieved this week, someone who also is grateful to have their home and life back. It’s a chance for us to share why we hope, to share  our confidence in the One who lost more than we ever could just so that we could have everything He ever deserved.

I’m drawn to the phoenix right now – the  mythical creature that rises from the ashes. That’s exactly what is happening in Colorado Springs right now. There is hope. There’s life beyond the catastrophe.