I must be dreaming. I was driving home Tuesday from Calvary Worship Center, where I had been doing my internship, only to be deadlocked into bumper-to-bumper traffic the whole way home. These are people evacuating. A surreal experience through what was to me the most vivid picture of hell I have ever experienced. Smoke and ash surround our cars. The sun and flames cast an eerie glow turning even the simplest shape, like a tree or a house, into a nightmarish shadow.
We finally get home, a trip that should have taken no more than twenty minutes. I’m crying. My mom is crying. My sister is crying. My dad is the face of calm.
Let me take you back a couple of days. On Saturday morning, we all had a bit of a lazy start, yet decided to go out garage selling. This is what we like to do on Saturdays as a family. My sister Sarah (also a JBU student) was with us as Saturday is her day off from working her summer job at a camp called Eagle Lake. We had a wonderful morning searching for bargains, grabbing some hamburgers at a single mother’s benefit and roaming the streets for sales.
We were up by the Flying W. Ranch when we saw a trickle of smoke beyond the foothills. Not long after, we saw a couple of fire trucks buzz by. We thought nothing of it until we got home. This fire was over 100 acres.
Alongside my internship, I work at a restaurant called TGI Friday’s. I had work Saturday night. By the time I came home, not only was there much more smoke, but the fire had grown to be over 2000 acres.
This fire was growing and fast. Needless to say, Eagle Lake was completely evacuated bringing my brother and a couple of displaced teenagers to our house. Over the next couple of days, all we could do was wait. It seemed like every day the evacuation areas crept closer and closer to our home.
This brings me back to Tuesday. The fire is out of control. Smoke and ash rain down. We try to stay calm and eat a quick dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. I get a text: Mandatory Evacs ordered west of I-25 from Vindicator north to Air Force Academy.
This meant us.
We pack a few things: clothes for 72 hours, important documents, load the cars (four in all–some neighbors had more cars than drivers), say a prayer, wave goodbye, then join the flow of evacuees on Woodmen Road. I have never seen so many cars or so calm of drivers. It is like we all were in one knowing — if that makes sense— like we were all in this together.
It took a long time to get down the mountain. Once we did, we stopped at a Carl’s Jr. and looked back at the devastation of places we grew up knowing.
Flying W. Ranch, “burnt to the ground.” Homes of friends and loved ones “burnt to the ground.” I cannot describe the feeling of watching the flames barrel down the mountain towards homes, our home. The smoke turns black when the flames reach new fuel, in this case people’s houses.
We made it safely to our rendezvous point at my cousin’s house on the other side of town. We watched for hours as homes burned on TV. Since then, we have been playing the waiting game. According to the media, the fire, which began Saturday, is 25 percent contained and expected to be completely contained by July 16. As of Friday, this fire has consumed 16,750 acres. On Tuesday alone, the acreage more than doubled overnight. This was the night of our evacuation.
As my older sister Beth (who is staying with friends about 20 minutes away and is also a JBU graduate) said in a text to family and friends: “I just wanted to send you another update. I am playing the waiting game. I sat up on the bluff by my ‘refuge camp’—we have five church families staying in a beautiful house all of us evacuated—and watched the mountain burn last night. It glowed with embers and ignited big when it hit fuel. We sat in awe and wondered what our neighborhoods will now look like. We wonder when we can go home. It is the weirdest feeling on earth to not be able to go home or to Bruce’s house (her fiance) or to my favorite Starbucks or to church or my chiropractor. For the rest of Colorado Springs life goes on. But for us West Siders, nothing is the same. Waiting. Trusting. Hoping. Praying.”
I cannot agree more. Right now all we can do is wait. Trust. Hope. Pray. Our home remains standing. Eagle Lake is miraculously holding on although completely surrounded by flames and God remains in control even as the fire rages on.