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10 Tips for Moving On: A Wildfire Survival Story

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Honestly it’s difficult to tell now why we felt relaxed. Maybe we assumed we would be going home in a few hours or at the worst, the next day. Were we slightly in shock? Perhaps Colorado’s worst wildfire in history that was burning in the canyon we called home was lulling us into an easy state of denial. We know every home, meadow and park in our canyon as we have walked through and passed them hundreds of times. We glued ourselves to the news for the next 72 hours not knowing if our house was still standing or not.

The level of destruction was horrific. Over 7000 acres of forest destroyed and 150 homes and counting completely burned to the ground. Friends emailed and called, wrote words of empathy and encouragement to us on Facebook and offered their help. The offering of help is what is so amazing to us now. It was as though this terrible fire brought out the very best in everyone that we knew; it brought out their truest nature: to give, to help. As the hours turned to days, our sleep wasn’t great. We talked about all of the “what ifs” and how we would deal with them. And then the list of burned houses became public. 169 homes were totally destroyed. For two days we checked for our address, and though extremely close to our house, our home was, for the time being, safe.

It was another week before we were allowed into our area and then we had to have a special pass issued at the Justice Center. The afternoon that we went to get our pass to get back into the canyon, we ran into neighbors who had lost everything. There really aren’t words to console someone who has suffered so much loss in one fell swoop, so open arms, hugs and tears were the mode of communication.

The day that we drove up Sunshine Canyon to see our home, we didn’t know what to expect. Would we be living with a burned forest around us? Driving up the canyon we saw a blackened mountain on the south side of the road and green forest on the north side. Pulling into our driveway, it was as though nothing had ever happened. The land and our home looked exactly the same. The house smelled of smoke though and a fine film of soot was present in many of the rooms. Leaving our house in such a rush on Labor Day, we broke a cardinal rule of fire safety: Close all of your windows and doors.

The next day we met with an insurance adjuster from American Family Insurance. We want to name their name here because so often you hear stories about unreasonable insurance companies that add to the suffering instead of helping. But American Family took care of us. They helped us get a smoke and mitigation cleaning crew up to the house. They replaced our mattress and bedding, washed and dry-cleaned all of our clothes, wiped soot off our every possession and after a week of cleaning, our house was ready for us.

We moved back in after being displaced for three and a half weeks. During that time we experienced all of the symptoms of heightened stress: fear, anxiety, denial, sorrow, grief, tension, disorientation and sleeplessness. The Zen saying goes like this: “now this being so, how shall I proceed?”

The “how shall I proceed” is the part that is about health care/ self-care. It’s what we have tried to practice and what we have learned.

Next: 10 Tips for Moving On

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25 comments

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4:42AM PDT on Oct 16, 2014

I've come to this belatedly, but thanks so much for taking the time to pass these reflections on.

1:39AM PDT on Oct 22, 2010

Thanks

8:48PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

great article, thanks for sharing :)

11:53AM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

How sad that sometimes it is only disasters that bring out the best in people. This is an attitude towards life that we should strive to live daily even without a disaster prompting the change.

7:12AM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

Thank you for your insight.

2:59PM PDT on Oct 10, 2010

Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

10:58AM PDT on Oct 9, 2010

thanks for the article.

10:04PM PDT on Oct 8, 2010

Healing takes many paths and each of us chooses our own,
pat

9:59PM PDT on Oct 8, 2010

THANK YOU!

6:38PM PDT on Oct 8, 2010

Very good advice. Thank for sharing.

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