Friday, August 16, 2013

The Black Forest Fire: It's Personal

Until recently, when I said I grew up in Black Forest, I was met with a confused stare and would have to explain that it is a small community northeast of Colorado Springs. And by community, I mean adventure paradise to the girl with perpetually scraped knees and dirt under her fingernails. My parents moved there when I was two years old and have lived in the same house since then.

I like to think of myself as a country girl at heart. Living on dirt roads with our closest neighbor a city block away, we weren't exactly playing basketball with neighborhood kids in the street. Instead, we were catching salamanders and swimming in ponds (some of which had leeches, as I recall.) My sister and I spent countless hours with our best friends, the Whites, exploring the forest. We could seamless cross through barbed-wire fences, making the patchwork of 35-acre farms our personal backyard.

The old barn off Hodgen Road was our playground. Who needs monkey bars when we can literally swing from the rafters on old ropes? It was from that barn that we were chastised for bringing home a bird's nest full of baby birds. We tried to plead that we must care for the baby birds, as every kid knows that a mother bird will reject its babies if they've been touched by humans. Apparently our parents were wiser than old myths, and made us return the birds.

There was also the time we were out searching for leprechauns in the forest after dark and I got stuck in a snowdrift up to my waist. My sister bravely waited with me while Tara went for help. After that, I learned that not only are leprechauns another myth, but also that brand new blue jeans will stain your legs blue if stuck in a snow drift for too long.

And my Black Forest stories would not be complete without Sean White's makeshift zip lines running from tree to tree in his back yard. After getting stuck, frozen in fear at the top of a tree, unable to use the old handlebars resembling my form of transportation to zip down to solid ground, my faithful friends and dear sister left me to go inside for a snack. Thankfully, Mrs. White noticed one missing from the table and made them retrieve me with a ladder.

So when the fire raged through Black Forest in June this summer, it was personal. The Black Forest Fire is the most destructive fire in Colorado's history, destroying over 500 homes and 14,000 acres. Fourteen thousand acres of beautiful, peaceful forest. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

I notice that now when I say I grew up in Black Forest, people give a concerned look and ask if everything is OK. For my parents, it's a hearty yes, a reassurance that while the fire was within a mile of their home, their house and views have been untouched. But after driving a short distance from their house, it is clear everything is not OK. The destruction caused by the fire is stunning, it takes your breath away. There are areas that look like a vast wasteland of black trees resembling telephone poles and charred black ground, the air still smelling of smoke and ash. Entire streets where nothing stands but old brick chimneys.

There are stories after stories. My mom's co-worker, whose home stands alone among dozens burned, has been advised to not open her windows for A YEAR because the air quality is too poor. Or friends who were busy helping their disabled or elderly neighbors evacuate and ended up losing EVERYTHING in the fire.

And yet, hope is not lost. Green grass is already pushing through in areas, a reminder that life can happen after destruction. And neighbors are working together to help sift and sort and cut down trees. Rumor has it that none of the churches in the Forest were destroyed. My parents' church, Black Forest Chapel, is actively working to help the community. Not only has its members been active in restoration efforts, but through its victim recovery fund, it has raised and distributed over $50,000 to community members impacted by the fire. (To read about their work or contribute to the fund, visit

I'm not sure when or how Black Forest will resemble that of my childhood memories, but I'm hopeful in the strength and resolve of its community.

Knowing my photography skills are subpar, I took my dear friends and amazing photographers, Kari Laniel and Hannah Lesley on a field trip of the Black Forest fire. Here is a sample of their photographs.





I'm thankful that my boys will still enjoy the same trees (with new swings!) that I used as a kid, and experience the adventures of Black Forest. There are new adventures and new memories waiting just around the corner.
 (Photos by Kari and Hannah.)




1 comment:

  1. Excellent, well articulated article straight from the heart...and although I am not a native of the Black Forest area, I often had tears swell up in my eyes as I chatted/Skyped a few friends during the time of the fire. I am especially grateful to God for the miraculous 'escape' of the Black Forest Chapel- I have been visiting for the past 13 years- and moreso my second home - the Connell Palace on Table Rock Road...God is good all the time and even in such destructive environment, I am sure His people would find there is something to be thankful for. God bless you all!