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Hi, I'm Tamera, a professional wedding, portrait and boudoir photographer in Colorado Springs. But this blog isn't about my professional work; no, it's a daily love note to my beautiful city, where I've lived for most of my life. I love it here and I hope you enjoy seeing Colorado Springs through my eyes and lens!

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24 June 2013

From the ashes: rebirth

This isn't just an ordinary home under construction in an ordinary neighborhood on an ordinary day. It's a sign of rebirth, faith, and the resilience of human nature.

Exactly one year ago today, on June 24, 2012, I made a very concerned, 5:09 AM post about a wildfire that had ignited the previous afternoon just west of Colorado Springs, in Waldo Canyon (see
http://csdailyphoto.blogspot.com/2012/06/this-is-not-sunset.html).  It was the closest that a destructive blaze had ever been to our city.  Over 32,000 Colorado Springs area residents were forced to evacuate rapidly, some on such short notice that they had nothing but the clothes on their backs. The entire populace was on edge, praying that the unthinkable would not happen as the blaze consumed thousands of acres unchecked. But unfortunately, on the afternoon of June 26th, the fire did the impossible: it breached the ridge just above a neighborhood called Mountain Shadows, then swiftly burned downhill.  Common sense and physics tell us that a fire cannot possibly do this, but the wind was so forceful that day, it sent embers flying downslope and, within 45 minutes, flames had engulfed Mountain Shadows and the bone-dry foothills above it.  Though the residential streets had been evacuated, it is still a very busy part of town, and the resulting panicked stampede of office workers rushing to flee the inferno made international headlines. The accompanying dramatic images of a gridlocked Garden of the Gods Road, hellfire roaring in the background, can only be described as surreal.  In case you missed it, here is a photo from that day (this shot was taken in the afternoon, but the smoke was so heavy it looks like nighttime):

Two people died and 346 homes were burned within hours, despite the exceedingly brave efforts of EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of our fire department, plus the countless "hotshots" that were in the area to combat the fire.  Pat and I had left town around noon that day to escape the smoke, heat and anxiety, for a two day road trip. We were gassing up our car in Kansas, five hours away, when the anguished updates from friends began to appear on our Facebook news feeds as the fire breached city limits. I can only describe it as gut wrenching to be away from our beloved Colorado Springs at that moment. We simply didn't know what to do.  Everything in our hearts was telling us to rush home, but after some very earnest discussion we realized that it would not help to go back. So we continued on our trip, all the while checking for updates and watching the live news feeds on my laptop in our hotel room.  It was horrible.  Just typing this is making my heart ache. The memories are still too intense.  I blogged about it all here:  http://csdailyphoto.blogspot.com/2012/06/colorado-springs-is-in-flames.html  (Note: in the post I mention that we were going to turn back and go home, but we changed our minds the next morning.)

About three weeks later I finally steeled myself to drive through Mountain Shadows and see the destruction firsthand.  I'm at a loss to describe how I felt when I spotted the first charred home. It was as though the innate sense of security that most Americans take for granted was violently sucked out of my body at that moment. It was devastating for me; I cannot imagine how the people who lost everything must have been feeling.  I cannot imagine.  My friend Jennifer and I silently toured around the devastated cul-de-sacs, and I took pictures of some of the destroyed homes.  I blogged about it here: 

And here is a picture I took of a small section of Mountain Shadows, showing many burnt homes and the charred foothills beyond (from this blog post:  http://csdailyphoto.blogspot.com/2012/07/more-firefighter-love.html).

Over the past months, I've had occasion to go to Mountain Shadows from time to time.  One of my friends lives right in the heart of it (in fact, two homes on either side of her were destroyed in the fire, and she had such a close call that her patio furniture was scorched; two other friends of mine were not so lucky -- their homes did not survive).  The first couple of times I drove through, the charred remains of houses still stood. It was a bleak scene, though the people who live in that neighborhood must have inured themselves to it over time.  Then, slowly, the rubble was removed.  But there is still no mistaking that there was a giant, destructive fire in that part of town. The foothills just above it are blackened and utterly devoid of living trees. 
Despite all this, the last time I was in Mountain Shadows, a few weeks ago, I was heartened to see that reconstruction was under way.  Many people have decided to stay put and rebuild their homes.  I find this to be incredibly encouraging.  It shows how indomitable the human spirit can be, and how the instinctive pull of home can supersede devastating loss.  I went back on Saturday to capture a small part of the rebirth.  Here are a few images of Mountain Shadows today. 

The house on the left was unharmed, while the one on the right was a complete loss a year ago.

This one is nearly completed, as you can see. Only the roof is yet to be finished.
This home is mere yards from my friend Connie's house. Connie was one of the lucky ones whose homes were saved, though it was a very close call for her.

Just beyond the house pictured above this photo -- you can see that the hills are completely charred and there is no regrowth save for low grasses and shrubs.

Some residents understandably opted out of rebuilding, and are instead selling the empty lots where their homes once stood.

Ironically, Mountain Shadows now faces the very real threat of flooding.  The neighborhood is situated at the base of the foothills that are now completely devoid of vegetation; there is nothing to stop an onslaught of mud, sodden ashes or water should a heavy rainstorm occur.  There has been  a mighty effort to replant the foothills, and sandbags are pervasive in the neighborhood.


Mo said...

It is good to see the recovery from such enormous devestation

Anonymous said...

It's great to see the recovery. What a well written article. It's obvious how much you care about your community. It's great to see the rebirth!

Linda said...

Wonderful photos! I hope the rains are not too heavy.

Randy said...

Nice to see the renewal.

Hilda said...

The resilience of man and nature are amazing. But that is such bad news about possible flooding. I hope people are prepared.

b.c. said...

what a great post, i hope mother nature eases back up in re the flooding....your town is lucky to have you be their witness!