Monday, April 9, 2012
2 Weeks and Everything is Different
It’s hard to believe that it has been 2 weeks since the fire. At this time 2 weeks ago, I was just beginning to stir and thinking about my full day ahead. Since I haven’t shared past Day 2 with you yet, I am going to do that now.
I realize I don’t want to think about those days. It’s easier at this point to share where I am now, but there is a chunk of the story missing.
David returned with a raging migraine on the morning of 28th on an early flight. (He is blogging too at www.northforkashes.com.) I wasn’t sure how our reunion would be. Would I weep in his arms, would I fall down, would we argue? We greeted each other calmly and further cemented the team we have become over our 17 years of marriage. Stress (as I am sure you know) can do bad things to a couple. Grief can rip a marriage apart. As my client Sandra Champlain reminds me, we all experience grief differently; we are in different places at different times; and we can easily make each other wrong and have misunderstandings. David and I promise to be gentle with each other and to be aware of our differences in processing. We promise to be a team.
The morning was spent gathering information, making calls to insurance, our neighbors, our family and friends and following the news online.
The Sherriff’s Blog gave this update:
Conditions on the fire line overnight were relatively stable.
Today's fire strategy will focus on moving from primarily point protection to establishing containment.
There was little growth of the fire overnight. Estimates are still around 4.500 acres with zero containment. There are still 6,500 on pre-evacuation.
An urban search and rescue team will go into the fire zone this morning looking for the missing woman starting at her home and then fanning out from there.
28 homes burned. 2 Heavy air tankers, 1 single engine plane, 2 helicopters from Buckley AFB + 2 more helicopters will be providing air support as long as weather conditions allow.
Throughout the day, I email friends and the support continues to roll in.
I write: we are ok. We know we will get through this but everyone we talk to who has ever experienced this says it will be a long uphill battle. They say the insurance companies will make efforts to have us give up, that we need to stay strong, that it may drive us to drink ;-) and that it will take much longer than we think it will. A new friend who lost her home in the boulder fire almost 2 years ago is still attempting to get back in her house. she said plan on 22 mos.... eeeeeks. we are exhausted and still in shock. i keep thinking that it couldn't really have happened :-( we are beginning to recreate as much as we can of receipts. i have been told to treat it as a full time job too...
We discuss the horrific series of human error that lead to this disaster and read the news as more is revealed: http://kdvr.com/2012/03/27/official-prescribed-burn-likely-to-blame-investigation-under-way/
We anxiously await for the promised call to do a “site visit” with a sheriff and a victim advocate.
Posted: Wed Mar 28, 2012 1:33 pm Post subject: 26 people will be given the opportunity to tour the damage. They will need to provide identification proving they live at the addresses - no media access is being given at this time.
Finally something to do other than sit around and wait. Our “visit” is scheduled for 10am the next day. For the rest of the day, we keep up with the news, play with our dog, inventory the few items I carried out, talk to our friends, stare into space and attempt to keep calm.
At 4:08, we discover that finally the fire has moved from 0% containment to 15% contained. The estimated size up is at 4,140 acres… Discussions are beginning about the force and fury of this particular fire. More numbers are circulating: a 1500 foot wall of flames moving at 45 mph consuming 200 feet every 2 minutes…. Not much can survive this. Extreme heat and speed put this fire in a category of it’s own. It is still surreal. We can’t wrap our minds around it. We cling to a small hope that the Sherriff is wrong about our home. We are grateful that I got out alive and mourn the tragic fate that befell our neighbors. We know who the missing woman is, even though the news hasn’t said her name. We have heard the story. Her husband was out of town too. He reported he couldn’t reach her. She had been home alone.
The next morning, 10am doesn’t come quickly enough. We are told we can bring one friend with us and Adam Mackstaller meets us for the ride in. We return to the Staples parking lot in Conifer, which is once again buzzing with activity. Other families are meeting their “escorts”. I hear a sheriff asking another family, “What are you expecting to see?” I know they are preparing us all for the worst. We meet our sheriff and Victim advocate – both women and both instantly kind. We discover we will be making the 20-minute journey in the back of a police car. For those who haven’t ever had the pleasure of riding in the back of such a vehicle, let me tell you, they are not designed for comfort. The back seat is hard plastic and the middle, where I sat wedged between Adam and David, is a raised hump. When working for the Victim Advocate Unit for the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, I had the opportunity to tour the jail. Both the jail and the back of a cop car are good deterrents for us non-criminally inclined. I don’t ever want to spend time in either place when it’s not my choice. To keep us smiling, the Sheriff offers to play her iPod on the way in. This almost distracted me from the hunk of hard plastic on which I sat.
They had warned us that if there were any fire flare-ups at any time we would either not be able to go in or that we might be turned around. We silently prayed this would not happen. We needed to see.
As we approached our road, the green, lush forest gave way to a scorched landscape. Interestingly, our road was a fire line. On the right side, the grass was green, the towering pines intact and the Aspens beginning to wake up from their winter sleep. On the left side was devastation. The fire department was still tackling “hot-spots” and “flare-ups” down our road, so we were sent in another direction. As the view emerged that way, we could see the extent of the carnage. Our neighbor’s homes burned to the ground. One family touring their property as we passed by. We heard the call go over the radio – they had an outdoor Coi pond and they had discovered their fish alive! Their beloved donkey and goat were not so lucky.
Further down, we were sobered as police dogs and men in yellow still searched for Ann Appel. What once was one of the most dramatic views in our area, was now a desolated mess. Power lines down, thousands of acres of rich forest decimated, beautiful homes smoldering shells.
Finally, we got the ok to go in to view ours.
We traversed the once familiar road yet this time the landscape was altered. Smoke came out of hotspots in the roots of trees, open vistas that once were blocked by leaves and pine needles, and, it seemed, nothing green remained. Black soot covered everything and began to fill the cramped space of our squad car. We passed our closest neighbors home (which had been featured on the news) yet noticed that everything looked worse in real life. Burned to the ground with a few remnants of chimneys standing.
Needing something to calm our souls, I made a music request. Can you play “’Standing Outside the Fire’ by Garth Brooks?”, I said. Our ever patient and kind deputy agreed, so that was the sound that filled the air as we made our final turns into our property.
How do I describe the first view? Fortunately we had seen quite a few houses up close and personal by now so that softened the blow. And, it was far worse than we ever expected it to be. Rubble, piles of twisted metal and a glimpse of foundation were what greeted us. We had hoped that at least one of our outbuildings survived – in particular David’s 18x20 workshop with a lifetime collection of tools – as well as our storage place for inherited antiques just waiting for that garage addition to be built. There was nothing but wreckage.
We wandered and peered into the mess. David began his investigation of the “fire proof” gun safe, which was still upright but completely charred. (If you have been reading my blogs, you already know that this last stronghold of hope was dashed after he cut off the top and found his prized collection beyond repair).
That first visit is a blur. But for the pictures, it would seem like my waking nightmare. At one point I lost it, sobbing into David’s arms. Then we continued drifting like zombies around our precious home.
After a while, we were told we had to go. Ready to go, but feeling ripped away at the same time; we turned away from our home and returned to the back of the squad car. Ironically, the brutal backseat was now more welcoming than the barren vista of what once was our sanctuary.