My Property Burned Down Last Wednesday

In June 2012, Colorado experienced the worst wildfire on record. This year, we topped it. I say "we" because I'm a resident of Colorado Springs, Colo., and last week, I, along with hundreds of others, watched our property burn.

There's nothing quite like watching your home ablaze -- whether it's your personal residence, or the area surrounding where you live -- the desperation that grips you, knowing there's nothing you can do but watch, is beyond words. But even in the midst of this tragedy, there's a silver lining: When things look bleak, the generosity of others will surprise you.

It begins
Last Tuesday, Colorado Springs had record-breaking temperatures of 97 degrees, all while Colorado was, and is, in the middle of a drought -- perfect fire weather. Around 1 p.m. a call came in that there was a fire burning in the area known as Black Forest. Firefighters responded to the scene quickly, but the conditions allowed the fire to grow from 15 acres to 7,500 acres with 300-foot flames, in a matter of hours. In the initial run, a reported 60 homes burned. 

Source: Christopher DeWitt, Wikimedia Commons. 

From Tuesday through Thursday, firefighters tried desperately to slow the growth of the Black Forest fire. The military and aircraft were brought in, and the fire was upgraded to a Type 1 Incident -- the most severe type of wildfire -- but despite everyone's best effort, the Black Forest fire grew to 14,280 acres, killed two, and destroyed 509 homes. As of today, more than a week after the fire started, the Black Forest fire is at 95% containment and stands as officially the worst Colorado wildfire on record. 

The light in the darkness
For me, the Black Forest fire burned the property where my husband and I are building a home -- but we're lucky. Our lot burned, and though we didn't lose everything, 509 other families weren't that lucky. That's where the community stepped in.

During the fire, thousands of people donated food and beverages to help firefighters working on the front lines. In fact, when organizations such as Care and Share mentioned a need, donations would flood the center. Thousands of people also volunteered to help in whatever capacity was needed -- animal rescue, call-center manning, you name it. 

Local businesses also stepped up. Last year, Tucker Wannamaker, a business owner with Magneti Marketing, helped start Wild Fire Tees, 100% of whose profits go to help victims. When I asked him about this effort, he said:

Wild Fire Tees launched on a Wednesday, the day after the Waldo Canyon fire moved through a big neighborhood in Colorado Springs. We thought we'd sell a couple hundred tees. That was way off. By the end of Thursday, we'd sold $170,000 worth of tees.

Tucker credits this success to a combination of social media, people's deep love for Colorado Springs, and an overall desire to help.

Now, Wild Fire Tees is at it again and selling T-shirts to raise money for victims of the Black Forest fire. Tucker said Wild Fire Tees aims to raise $500,000 for victims, and considering it's already raised $400,000, the goal is in sight. When I asked him what makes Colorado Springs so special, and what drove him to help, he said:

We're a community that bands together. I think the whole state is really that way. There's something magical about this state of ours.

Wild Fire Tees isn't the only local business to help fire victims. Poor Richard's Restaurant offered complimentary pizza for fire victims and firefighters. Tucanos, another local restaurant, offered free lunch on Sundays to evacuees. And Sky Sox Stadium offered free upper reserved seat vouchers to people donating food, and other needed goods. That's just a few of the hundreds of business that stepped in to help. And that's not all.

As a writer for The Motley Fool, it's easy for me to be critical of companies -- that's my job. But watching million- and billion-dollar companies look past their bottom-line to help fire victims reaffirmed to me why there's more to evaluating a company than just finances. CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL  ) offered free call forwarding to fire victims. Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ  ) provided a $10,000 grant to The American Red Cross, offered one-to-one matching of employee donations, and set up a system in which Verizon wireless customers could donate $10 by texting, without a fee, STORM or REDCROSS. And unlike DIRECTV's initial response to a fire victim that resulted in widespread social-media outrage, DISH Network (NASDAQ: DISH  ) proactively issued a statement saying all equipment damage fees would be waived, fire victims could pause service, and there would be no reinstallation fees.  

Even defense heavyweight Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) is helping fire victims. For employees who want to help victims by making donations to 501(c)(3) organizations, Northrop will match donations up to $5,000 per employee. In addition, the Northrop Grumman Foundation provided a $25,000 grant to the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross following the Waldo Canyon fire. That grant was used to buy medical cots, dividers, and a new disaster trailer. Mark Root, Northrop's corporate director of media relations, said:

During the Black Forest fire, that disaster trailer was immediately put into service. The executive director of the local Red Cross has repeatedly thanked us and communicated how important the equipment/supplies were in supporting Red Cross operations during this blaze. In one case, it enabled them to offer emergent care to a fire evacuee. 

Through their responses to the Black Forest fire, these companies demonstrated that there's more to them than just profits. And when I evaluate a company's potential long-term stability and growth, the importance a company places on its reputation and how it treats people plays a large factor.

We will rebuild
Nothing can completely undo the damage from the Black Forest fire, but nothing will destroy our community. As a community, we've bonded together to help. More importantly, we will not forget those who stepped up to help us fight this fire and rebuild. Even now, a year after the Waldo Canyon fire, signs thanking firefighters are proudly displayed in our city. The same will happen to the signs of thanks for the firefighters who battled the Black Forest fire. We, as a community, will never burn.

Thank-you sign hanging at the entrance to my neighborhood in Black Forest.

My property before ...

And after.

link


Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (29)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2013, at 12:59 PM, Wyoduane wrote:

    I'm just wondering if you checked your insurance policy? It being reported that the people of Moore, OK will not receive their insurance money because of a clause in the insurance policies that makes the payout directly to the mortgage holder. A rather nasty surprise if their intent was to rebuild.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2013, at 8:29 PM, razzamatazzer wrote:

    I'm sorry for your troubles-that you have to go through that! It's awful and I can only imagine.Wish you all the best!!!!

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2013, at 8:42 PM, Canonbal wrote:

    Katie,

    The situation in Colorado would be greatly helped if homeowners developed some botanical literacy.

    What I see is an annual exercise in wasting tax dollars, needless risk to human life and a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of fire in nature.

    Please read the Colorado vision of my fire safety film, "The Cannonball Express" at dub dub dub dot

    Canonbal dot org

    your comments and criticisms are welcome.

    Steve Kennedy

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 3:03 PM, DanDEquine wrote:

    Dan D Equine is available to haul #BlackForestFire evacuees horses home at no charge. 719-425-6838

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 10:55 AM, TMFCheesehead wrote:

    Katie,

    So sorry for all you've been through, but very happy you and your family are all safe!

    Brian

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 11:28 AM, damilkman wrote:

    It is always bad when life and property is damaged or destroyed. And my condolences to those who have suffered. However, what bugs me is instead of determinng if the build site is really a good idea people will just rebuild. The reality is if you live by the ocean, in a river floodplain, or in an arid forest, disaster is a possiblity. When I was in Hawaii(Big Island) I chatted with a home builder who talked about how difficult it was to get a permit and how he had to front up all the cash for his dream home. He understood that he could lose everything if the lava shifted his way. If you look at a historical map of lava flows, about all of Hawaii has been hit. Some day Kona Airport will have to be moved.

    As a FOOL I think you have to make a risk analysis of where you want to live, even after a disaster. Americans have sprawled into regions that were once uninhabited. I know the mountain uplands must seem like a great place to live. But you have to determine the risk that you live in a tinderbox and if you rebuild there it will continue to be a tinderbox. In Hawaii, people are not attached to property because they know mother nature can take it all. In the case of an erruption, you cannot even rebuild. Your land is gone forever. Just something to consider if you build in the floodplain of a river, by a tropical ocean prone to storms, or on a cliff with a great view, in the shadow of an active volcano, or in a conifer forest in the mountain west.

    So for your sake I hope you reconsider the boring front range. It may not be as pretty and a lot hotter. But it will not burn. Else understand that all that just happened, will happen again. If the quality of life is worth the risk, then one can be at peace that they can accept such a terrible loss.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 12:10 PM, jamesdan567 wrote:

    My home burned down in 2003 in the California Cedar fire.

    We lost everything but no one was hurt.

    Having to buy toothbrushes for me and the kids that first night was telling. We didn't have any.

    The lesson i learned was simple:

    Keep a checklist around for an emergency, because in an emergency its hard to think straight. We only had 15 minutes to flee.

    Be sure your home insurance is adequate, particularly the "loss of use" provisions

    Don't make any significant financial decisions except regarding rebuilding the home in the first two years after losing one. The event is so distracting that its not normal times.

    Don't worry. It's all ok after a while and you gain a refreshing attitude that is not so concerned about material stuff.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 1:03 PM, cooncreekcrawler wrote:

    While I am very sorry about all the destruction, it appears that your lot is in good shape if I am reading this correctly. The pines, I assume Pinus ponderosa, are charred at the base, but these trees have been surviving burns for years---IF they do not crown, and I see green in your remaining trees. Unfortunately, this destruction is the result of years of fire suppression and beetle kill, coupled with ideal conditions for wildfire. As long as you burn your lot periodically as it occurred in nature, you should be safe. Best regards,

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 1:44 PM, ems79 wrote:

    Best of luck in your efforts to rebuild, glad to you were not hurt, too bad about those who were.

    My general advice...

    Always keep a B.O.B. (bug out bag) handy, and ideally some spare clothing and toiletry items in a bag the trunk of your car. Saved me from many far, far, lesser emergencies, and from re-buying items I already had.

    Also, keep copies of valuable movies, pictures, audio, documents, etc, off-site--this is one area where once it's done it will provide you with big peace of mind.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 1:55 PM, chuckbreaux wrote:

    May God be with you and your family and neighbors.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2013, at 5:19 PM, Surfabouy wrote:

    We live in Crystal Park, above Manitou Springs and next door to Colorado Springs.

    Had to get out last year during the Waldo Canyon fire as our forest is 2,000 acres up the side of the mountain. Just missed us as the Firefighters were able to stop several jumps toward our direction.

    1. God Bless the Firefighters who are amazing hero's to the last

    2. It is questioned above whether the quality of life is worth the risk. For us it sure is. As long as we can live this close to Heaven, we shall. Should it every burn, it's just a house and stuff

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