SATURDAY, JUNE 23, 2012
Yet another blazing hot June day in a month of record high temperatures and drought. Early in the afternoon I stepped out on the deck after seeing a crawl on the TV saying there was a fire in Waldo Canyon. What met my gaze as I looked to the northeast was a huge growing plume of black smoke, shaped much like a mushroom cloud, moving closer and closer.
The telephone rang. The caller ID said “Reverse 911”. A voluntary evacuation order had been issued for Cascade, Chipita Park, and Green Mountain Falls, three lovely, contiguous, old communities strung like jewels along Ute Pass. My piece of paradise.
For a few minutes, all my carefully laid mental action plans fled my brain as the first surge of adrenaline hit. “Where will I go? Where will I stay? What should I take? How will I load the car with my back?” Then sanity returned, and I began to pack with one eye on the plume of smoke and both ears listening to the TV. (That's not entirely true. I stopped long enough to post a comment in J Town at 2 PM.)
We were told to be prepared for a 72 hour evacuation at most. (Who thinks these things up?) My first thought was for my two pooties, so I gathered up carriers, pootie pads, their heated bed (don't ask), medicine, cat litter, litter pan, dry food, gushy food, Gerber's, and vet records.
My records were next: medical records, financial records, tax records, will, power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care, birth certificates, a pile of unpaid bills, checkbooks, phone directory, stamps … all that and more got dumped into an expandable file with sturdy handles.
I went into the bathroom. I'm a disabled old fart, so I have a small fortune in medications, supplements, first aid supplies, lotions, potions, salves, and miscellaneous shit. I took the meds and the things that would be most expensive or difficult to replace.
I packed personal care and hygiene items. Again, I grabbed some things I wouldn't need but couldn't replace easily, like a small fortune in cosmetics and a few pieces of jewelry.
I took a laundry basket into the bedroom and filled it with underwear, t-shirts, scrub pants, one sweater, my community quilt, and a loaded pistol. (I thought I might end up sleeping in my car at some point.) With that thought, I topped off the laundry basket with a pillow.
All this and a supply of water and snacks got dumped by the front door. While I was scampering around I was listening to the TV and deciding where I should go, i.e., up the pass or down the pass? I could go down the pass to Colorado Springs, a much longer drive and one that would take me right past the parking area for Waldo Canyon. I didn't have a place to stay there and I knew prevailing winds would keep most of the smoke pushed into the Springs. My other choice was to go up the pass a few miles to Woodland Park, the little town I shop in. I knew from the TV chatter that a Red Cross shelter was being opened at the high school, so at least I'd have access to food and medical attention, even though I heard they wouldn't take pets. Woodland Park it would be, then. All I needed was a motel room.
Suddenly, the winds shifted and the plume of death stopped moving this way. I could take a moment or two and think. A few neighbors were packing up and leaving right away, but I have “issues”, as they say. Packing up my car meant multiple trips up and down a flight of uneven outside stairs carrying heavy loads with a back so unstable and painful that I'll be having surgery later this year. I could do it in half an hour, if necessary, but I thought I'd wait and see. There's a fire in Waldo Canyon at least once a year, and the firefighters always seem to put it out in short order, so I sat on my deck and watched and listened.
As darkness came, so did hope. Wildfires almost always “lay down” at night. I felt sure I could sleep in my own bed and, with a little bit of luck, never have to evacuate.
SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2012
It turns out this fire never read the book on proper fire behavior. I awoke at dawn, turned on the TV, and discovered to my horror that Manitou Springs was evacuated at 1:30 AM. A door-to-door, “grab your keys and haul your ass, ma'am” kind of evacuation.
I put a few things in the car.
At 6:53 AM my mandatory evacuation call came. Right on its heels came a call from my son in Texas. “Mom! What can I do?” “Get on the internet and find me a motel room in Woodland Park, one that will take Jim Bob and Tommy.” I made a few more trips down to the car.
“Mom, you've got a room for two nights at the Woodland Country Lodge. Here's the address and phone number. The only thing is, you won't be able to check in until 2 or 3.”
Eight hours until check-in? Yikes! Plan: load the car except for the pooties, purse and nurse. Piddle around at home for as long as humanly possible. Run the sprinkler, drown the house plants, finish the coffee, lock up the windows, do a mental review of what's packed, what might be lost forever. Pray for rain (Ha!) and favorable winds. I got neither, and at 7:45 I posted in J Town, “I'm bugging out – gotta go.” I jerked eight cords out of the back of my PC and put it in the car, took one last tour of my home, loaded up, and headed up the pass.
With hours to kill and cats yelling from the back seat, my first stop was the Red Cross shelter to check in. I already knew they weren't doing a damn thing for people who can't or won't be separated from their pets, but I decided to give them some crap about it:
“During Katrina, I saw an old man drown when one of your shelters turned him away because he wouldn't give up his dog. He swam back into the flood waters, went under, and never came back up. I thought the law changed after that, that you folks have grown a heart. Why am I wrong?”
The Red Cross volunteer said, “Well, we now have to take service animals. But we can't do what you're asking, because some people are allergic to animals. If a kid got scratched by a cat or a dog bit someone, we'd get sued.”
I drove around Woodland Park for five endless hours. It was too hot to stop and turn the car off with animals in it. I went to the hotel and gave them my cell phone number, asking that they call me the minute my room was available. That worked for about ninety minutes before cell service stopped working, so I'd drive for a while, go to the hotel and check, drive some more. I have a dumbphone as there's no signal in my neighborhood, so I was completely off the grid for those hot hours. Finally, finally, I was able to check in, unload the car, carry everything up to the second floor, and let poor Jim Bob and Tommy out of their carriers.
At 8 PM Manitou Springs residents were allowed to go home. “Yippee!” I thought. “We're next!”