Wildfire and trauma

I have been a student of the psychological affects of trauma ever since I performed my counseling internship at a rehab hospital in 1994. There I had the opportunity to treat those who had lost limbs in accidents, suffered devastating strokes, and life-changing sepsis. But it is somehow quite different to experience your own life-changing emergency. How has this experience changed me?

slab and framing of comanche drive

First of all, I will never forget that one last look at our brand new home as we drove away possibly for the last time. As smoke billowed above our home and ash started falling down on us, we left with two cars full of a crazy mix of things plus a cat and a dog, not even knowing where we were going.

We were so lucky that a dear friend in La Veta took us in and La Veta did not have to be evacuated. I now call our week in La Veta our emergency slumber party, because Cheryle made it as fun for us as she could.

By Tuesday I was totally stressed watching the mountains west of our home burn. I could only reassure myself that the firefighters would hold the line at County Road 520, which they ultimately did.

The next memorable moment was the evening of the 4th of July when it finally cooled down a little in La Veta and even rained a tiny bit. It felt so good out on the back porch doing our own version of a rain dance, as the TV rang out with patriotic music and fireworks.

But the real fire stopper was the gigantic rain we had up at Cuchara and here in La Veta on the evening of July 5th.  I have now learned from firefighters that that extra inch of rain saved both Pinehaven and Cuchara. Mother Nature comes through BIG TIME and saves the day!

In retrospect, I suffered some trauma. I will have dreams in the future about losing everything so soon after building it to perfection. There are many among us who have lost so much.

Please do not minimize or belittle the suffering of those in our community no matter what they have experienced. One thing I know about trauma, it so often brings up previous losses in extremely unpredictable ways. Respect the feelings of everyone you meet. If they are suffering, it is real for them.

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First a record-breaking Colorado wildfire and then flash flooding – Never a dull moment here this summer!

spring fire

Ever since a wildfire broke out west of us on June 28th and I called 911, I feel like I’ve been riding a bucking bronco of disaster and devastation here in the foothills of southern Colorado! We were evacuated from our home the afternoon of June 29th to La Veta, where we spent one week worrying about losing everything.

Returning home on July 7th we felt only gratitude that our beautiful new solar home was saved by the valiant efforts of so many local and federal firefighters and their support staff. At one point we had 1805 federal employees including the national guard here helping to control the third worst wildfire in Colorado history. The fire ended up burning over 108,000 acres and destroyed at least 250 homes.

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Then last night around 11 pm all hell broke loose at our house! The floods came with an amazing array of lightning and thunder. Nobody could have slept through that! It rained for over three hours and brought us as much rain as we have had in the past four months in one big fat storm! It’s feast and famine around here. I have been measuring precipitation for COCORAHS and the Weather Service for over twenty years now, and I don’t believe I have ever had 2.28 inches in one storm here in Colorado.

The Cuchara River that runs through La Veta has been bone dry for over a month now, but this morning it is running strong with black water flowing from the burned areas up around Cuchara and Pinehaven. Sure hope there were no worse mud slides or flooding up above here. I have seen rivers before full of black slurry after severe mountain fires. The water runs just like velvet.

I am unable to provide new photos on here because we still don’t have the Internet at our home! I have to run into La Veta to get online…SECOM is definitely on my shit list!

What is newsworthy? Local heroism!

It is obvious from watching the national news since our county almost burned down, that kids in a cave in northern Thailand are all that matters to us. Listen, I do get it. Between listening to our president berate everything and everybody and watching a human interest story about some kids in a cave, I would choose that too. But the fact is, we don’t need to go as far as Thailand to find the highest level of bravery and heroics in this world. I have never been the witness to a more newsworthy story than what happened here last week.

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The mountain behind our house…

Our nation missed  an uplifting and encouraging news story of bravery and selflessness when our own firefighters and their support teams saved this small rural county in southern Colorado from total destruction. More than half of our county was burned or at least affected by the Spring Fire, started by some Danish idiot in the county west of us. And even if the national news chose to ignore us, the entire western part of our country is on fire right now. In response to this national emergency we get a big fat “Who cares!” from the national news media.

The local TV stations have at least attempted to cover this third largest wildfire in Colorado history. KOAA in Colorado Springs had a great piece called “Saving Cuchara” on recently.

I would at least like more Americans to know that thousands of government employees risk life and limb everyday, breathing in toxic smoke constantly, with little sleep or any other creature comforts on 12 plus hour shifts, so that you and I can still go home to our house tonight.

Heroism is everywhere this summer, not just in Chiang Rai Thailand!

HOME again! All’s right with my world!

I will never take home for granted again! We got back into our house on Saturday afternoon, completely frazzled but so PLEASED to be back home! Even though we have no Internet there and probably won’t have it for weeks, nobody appreciates home more than we do now!

morning sun on comanche drive

We saw smoke up behind our house as we drove up to it, which freaked me out, so I called 911 one more time, and it was a controlled back burning to secure and contain all fires around us.

The STRESS of this past week of wildfire evacuation can be felt all over my body. I felt almost incoherent the day we got into our house, with body aches everywhere. Since I finally felt safe and secure for the first time in over a week, I took a little THC and drank a rum drink, which I rarely do…you have to go crazy sometimes or you might go crazy! I’ve been sleeping so much in the past few days.

How strange to be let into your own area by a blockade of National Guard troops! They were checking picture IDs and “re-entry” passes for everyone on the way in. Luckily today that is over and we are completely off evacuation status!

What would you take in a wildfire evacuation?

Being evacuated from our lovely new home in southern Colorado last Saturday, as the “Spring Fire” raged west of us, was a first for me. What should I take? What would I really miss if I never saw it again?

The irony was not lost on me. Four years ago we got rid of most of our personal belongings to move down here from Fort Collins. At that point I felt like half of the selection at the local Goodwill was mine! We moved from a 2,000 square foot house up north, into a 1,000 square foot rental in Walsenburg for a year, while building a 1,400 square foot passive solar retirement home in the foothills.

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We have been in our new home less than three years now. Within that process I have learned so much about non-attachment. It is true. Clearing out the space around you does help you to clear your mind. We usually choose to keep things around that remind us of our past loves, trips, and lives.

So what did I quickly pack into my car last week? All of my pictures and journals going back decades, my books, an ink painting I picked up at the Great Wall of China, my cloisonne ginger jar from China, clothes I like to wear, my entire desktop computer, a big Chinese lacquer box and quilts my Mom made. I wanted to load up my Mom’s hope chest, built by her in 1950, but it was just too heavy for us to lift.

Driving away from our new home was devastating. We had struggled and suffered so hard to put this new home here in the Colorado outback. Were we really going to just leave it here to burn?

morning sun on comanche drive

As you can probably imagine, this week has provided gigantic ups and downs for me. Just a few days ago I watched as tremendous plumes of smoke rose up near our new home. Ask Mike. I was one hot mess!

Now that the smoke has cleared, literally, I can feel nothing but supremely fortunate to live in a country that takes care of us when we are so terribly vulnerable.

We spoke to one of those great Forest Service men in Walsenburg yesterday. He was explaining where the fire is now and then my friend ask him how we might make donations to help their cause. He said, “We can’t take tips, this is our job.” His partner came over and said, “Just keep paying your taxes…”

Hallelujah! Our home is saved!

Great News today! We are now certain that the area around our home is safe from fire! Last night we even got a tiny bit of rain here in La Veta. We had our own 4th of July celebration on Cheryle’s back porch in the dark!

This little town now has 1805 firefighting personnel in it, much more than its residents. We still have no sense of when we can return to our home. A new source of anxiety, waiting and wondering, but feeling so much thanks for our amazing federal government and its dedicated employees, who give all everyday to save other peoples’ lives and homes!

Almost no smoke around us this morning in La Veta! Cheryle has been a WONDERFUL HOST, but we are still tiring of this strange version of an emergency slumber party. At least it is much cooler this morning with a good chance of rain tonight. Now we wait to see if we get flash flooding up in the burn areas.

Once again I am reminded of what a wonderful person my husband is. He has been cleaning and fixing everything in sight at Cheryle’s home, just as he does when he’s at home.

How lucky am I? Feeling tremendously fortunate today!

Day 5 of Evacuation for the North Spring Fire in Huerfano County Colorado

It has certainly been a wild ride for us here in southern Colorado since June 28th! We live north of Highway 160 not too far west of Walsenburg, and were evacuated to a friend’s home in La Veta on June the 30th.

The greatest challenges for us have been worrying too much and finding very little good government information to reassure us. Yesterday I learned that our part of the fire has its own name (North Spring Fire) and finally this morning we got some solid information on structure protection west of our home. It seems they are finally getting the resources they need here to truly do their jobs right. I feel so much better about everything now.

I’m beginning to truly appreciate the level of organization, and the number of men, machines, and planning involved in mounting an operation like this. Multiply that times the number of fires in the West right now and that is the BEST EXAMPLE I CAN THINK OF OUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK.

Next time you think you can go it alone, consider situations like this.

I’ve been locked out of my e-mail accounts for now, but I am posting relevant information on my Facebook page. Thanks so much for your interest and concern.