The wind was relentless as I took a break from work in my home office to drive “down the hill” to Littleton and have some Chinese food for lunch around 1:00. On the way back home I noticed smoke in the distance high in the foothills that appeared to be was close to where I lived, but it is hard to tell exactly from down below.
As I drove up Deer Creek Canyon I caught glimpses the smoke plume growing higher, each time hoping it was not close to where I lived. No such luck. As I turned up High Grade Road it was clear that the smoke was in the vicinity of my home. Anxiously I turned up S. Kuehster Road and drove directly to the Lamb School House where I could see it was the controlled burn my neighbors and I had watched with great concern the past days. I remembered getting a call from a neighbor the day the burn was started by the Colorado State Forest Service. She was concerned that she could see a large smoke plume from Denver where she worked and was concerned about her house. There was no notification of the burn for those of us on S. Kuehster Road. One neighbor did call and was instead told about the controlled burn taking place the same day in Ken Caryl, but not even an acknowledgement of the Lower North Fork Burn, as we now know it.
I was worried because the wind was howling at that time and it was hard to imagine that this was a good thing, but I had no idea the horror that lay ahead for me and my neighbors.
When I returned home I turned on the Fire Scanner. I then called two of my neighbors to compare notes on what they were hearing and seeing since I did not have a direct view of the fire. What we heard on the scanner could best be described as chaos. We quickly decided we better start packing just in case the worst happened.
My wife, Mary Ann, had been visiting her family in Denver and was on her way home. I was able to reach her and told her to get home quickly because there was a fire. This was around 3:30. I remembered my insurance agent telling me that I should inventory the house with video in case of a catastrophe; of course we always put that off. I quickly ran through the house and videoed every room in 5 minutes. I grabbed the dog cages and was debating which car to take. I believed there was still plenty of time.
I started packing a bag; getting out my large suitcase I use for business travel. I remember thinking I should take comfy clothes and threw a sweatshirt into the suitcase. For no good reason I walked out to the upper deck to get some air and saw the forest on fire just below me and the sky turning black powered by gale force winds. I quickly closed the suitcase with just a sweatshirt in it as my wife walked in house.
I told her we need to go NOW! A couple of neighbors called as we flew around the house in what can best be described as a panic. I told them to get out of here and we were leaving. This was at 5:15.
She scurried about trying to gather up all of the animals, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a bird. I had already loaded my PC’s, personal and business records. That was all we had time to gather. We loaded all of the animals into her car with no regard to trying to get them into cages. She later told me she almost wrecked the car several times as the animals would crawl under her legs as she drove.
We sped down Kuehster Road to find many of our neighbors and emergency vehicles staged at the bottom of the road. It did not seem safe to linger, this thing was horrendous and was growing fast, so we traveled down High Grade Road.
It was infuriating to see bicyclist leisurely riding up the hill as if nothing was going on, getting in the way of everyone trying to flee or get home to save life and limb.
We checked into a hotel just at the bottom of Deer Creek. We hustled the animals and our suitcase containing one sweatshirt into the room. I have a live weather station that broadcasts from the house with live webcams and we quickly logged on to see what the house was like if it was still online. It was and we could barely make out the house from the thick smoke, sometimes blocking the view entirely. We continued to watch wondering if we would soon see it burst into flames. Then, we were disconnected. We knew either the power went out or the house was gone.
We tried to eat a bite at Chilis, but could not. So we went to the pet store to get food for the animals and spent the rest of the night laying in bed with vivid visions of fire raging through the house. We later learned most of our neighbors had the same dream and many still do to this day.
Early the next morning a neighbor knocked on our hotel room door. We got online to check the news channels. We gathered as we watched live raw video from a news chopper . I was surprised to see that one of my neighbors house was still standing and quickly sent him a message with the good news. The video then zoomed in on the house next door to my neighbor watching the video with me. He said he had been on the phone with them as they were packing. He then said stop the video. Looking at it he said ” they only have 3 cars and they are all still there in the burned out structure”. He was referring to Sam and Linda Lucas who perished in the fire. We were unfortunately the first to know.
March 27, 2012… My new reality begins.