I am a wife, mother, grand-mother, a woman doing my best to live according to God’s Word, but I fail more than I care to admit. Through God’s grace and love, I am forgiven and am the person I am today.
I enjoy sharing the story that God has given me, lessons learned about marriage, parenting, and life. For years I have had a desire to share my story of struggles with anxiety after a wildfire that chased us from our home. Here is the first chapter of the book I am writing about the summer of 2002.
Eye on the Mountain: When Fire Comes
“We need to leave, NOW!” my husband, Rob, yelled from the front door.
“What?” I asked, dropping the dish in my hand. It can’t be that close. There’s no way. We just got home, and I didn’t see anything …, I thought to myself as I followed Rob out the door.
I went down the steps, and turned to my left. The scene before me looked as if it came straight out of a movie. The kind of scene where something significant happens and everything around the character slows down, and usually all sound is drowned out.
I recall motion all around, moving fast, but to me it seemed slow. I remember a roar, a howl of the wind, and wood popping while being consumed by fire, but to my ears it sounded muted. The air no longer smelled of the heat of summer. It smelled of burning wood, and leaves. Where I should have seen mountains, towering thousands of feet above me, I saw nothing but red hot flames! A wall had gone up between God’s creation and me.
Trees ignited bursting into flames, licking and jumping to the next available item they could consume. Black smoke filled the sky. I scanned the mountain side and my eyes locked on a vortex of flames. It quickly disappeared into the surrounding flames and smoke, and just as quickly another vortex formed feet away.
Experts say fire creates its own weather because of the intense heat and the shifts in wind direction. The heat can rise to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That combined with the wind creates vortices where the flames spin around and around like a tornado. This rarely photographed phenomenon is referred to as a fire devil, a fire whirl or a firenado. They last mere seconds, hence the rare photo opportunity, but they last long enough to throw debris and embers in any direction.
Starting in South Canyon, to the west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, the fire spread east toward town, along Red Mountain. Then it jumped the railroad tracks, the Colorado River and Interstate 70, sweeping east along Storm King Mountain, northeast to Mitchell Creek toward the Flat Tops, and into West Glenwood. At this point it ran into structures, homes, and with different fuel and more of it, the fire slowed down at the same time that the wind pushed.
Move! I yelled to myself. My feet felt like lead weights. I ran back inside.
“Boys, go straight to the van and do not get out. Understand me?” I told our three boys, Robert, 11, A.J., 7 and Cory, 5. Having faith they would obey, I grabbed our brand new suitcase, threw in clothes I had washed, folded, and left on the couch earlier in the day. Then I ran down the hall to get clothes out of the washer and drier.
As I fought to get the suitcase out the front door, the world slowed down around me. Flames reflected in the windows of the van, and the faces of our boys stared back, their eyes huge. Shocked, my feet were frozen in place, again, with fear and disbelief. I couldn’t fathom what I saw.
God, protect us! I cried deep in my heart.
Seeing my struggle with the suitcase, Robert got out of the van, and took it from me. I went back inside, grabbed our pet cockatiel, and closed the door as I ran out of the house for what could have been the last time.
As I climbed into the passenger’s seat, two things came to mind. One, we probably shouldn’t leave Rob’s work truck, and two, where had Rob disappeared to? I immediately forgot about the truck, and felt irritated. I sat in the van wanting to get away from the fire burning less than 50 feet from where our boys and I sat, and I expected my husband to be next to me.
To my relief, within seconds Rob came running around the fence. Though I didn’t know it until later, he had knocked on a few doors, telling neighbors to get out. He then ran next door to check on Martha. A dear woman, and our friend’s mother, who did not want to leave her home. But Rob lovingly made sure she got into her daughter’s car.
Before climbing into the driver’s seat, Rob ran into the house to retrieve his guns. We pulled away from the house as a Sheriff’s Deputy drove into the trailer park. His face spoke volumes. I could sense the fear and urgency he must have been feeling. I prayed everyone would get out safely.
Like Bob and Carolyn Cordova, who lived in a trailer just up the road from where we lived. Bob had also been keeping an eye on the mountain. Their kids had come home to visit, but had gone to Carbondale, south of Glenwood, to see a car show. When Bob realized there wasn’t a moment to spare, he told Carolyn they needed to leave. Carolyn grabbed a bag and some photos, but vital medication for several family members, including their grandson, got left behind.
As we pulled out of the trailer park and turned east onto Hwy 6 & 24, running parallel to I-70, again scenes we only saw in movies played out around us. Behind us to the west, the mouth of the canyon resembled nothing of what it should have looked like. Draped in an orange glow with a grey smoky haze, it seemed as if the canyon swallowed every vehicle on I-70. The vehicles looked as if they had to fight their way out, using their high beams, hoping to find an end to the haze. When the vehicles emerged, many turned off the interstate and joined us as we and other traffic merged into a long single lane heading east with no place else to go.
Further down Hwy 6&24, Linda Stoltzfus, and her guests staying at Best Value Inn & Suites, also joined the long line of cars. Linda had been watching the fire, and advised her guests to prepare for evacuation. They stood on the deck of the hotel and watched as the fire jumped the canyon. Before they evacuated, Linda succeeded in taking a picture, capturing the fireball as it exploded near the mouth of the canyon.
Again I found myself gathering my wits and taking action. I picked up Rob’s cell phone to call Mom and Dad. I didn’t want them to hear about the evacuation on the radio or TV, and not know that we had made it out okay.
“Hello, Delto’s.” my Father answered using his usual greeting.
“Dad, we’ve been evacuated. The fire jumped the river. Our neighbor’s homes are already burning!” I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.
“What? I’m sorry I can’t understand you,” he replied.
Raising my voice, a little, I explained again. “We’ve been evacuated. We were home only fifteen minutes and we had to leave because the fire jumped the river.”
“I’m sorry, I still can’t understand you. Who is this?” my Dad questioned.
What? How could my own Father not recognize my voice?
“It’s Carla! We had to leave, the fire…” Rob lovingly reached over, and took the phone out of my hand. He calmly explained the situation to my Father, adding that we would see them soon.
I thought I made perfect sense. I communicated all the facts as we knew them. I raised my voice so my Father could hear me. I couldn’t understand the problem. Fortunately, we left Rob’s work truck behind, I couldn’t have driven a straight line. I sat back and watched the long line of cars as it snaked its way down the road.
We made it to the stop light at W. 6 St and Laurel St, 2.5 miles from our home. The intersection led to the east exit to I-70; we lived on the far west side of West Glenwood, passed the west exit.
While we waited for the light to change, three young men, in the parking lot to our right, caught my eye. One held a video camera, and all three jumped up and down, hooting and hollering.
I pictured them profiting from our misery, and I grew angry at the thought. One of the three men turned toward the van. Our eyes locked, and his excitement vanish. I hoped he realized the cars driving by held families that, like ourselves, may have just lost everything.
The light turned green, Rob drove through the intersection, and turned south onto Grand Ave Bridge. He continued on to the south side of town, stopping at a gas station.
After getting gas, he felt a need to go back and see as much as possible. We made it the mile and a half back over the bridge and to the same intersection, but couldn’t go any further. Rob turned north onto Laurel St., and parked in a parking space across the street from where I had seen the three young men.
I didn’t bother to look for the young men, and I didn’t bother to get out of the van. With all the buildings, hotels and restaurants, I couldn’t see very much, other than the smoke in the sky, changing the yellow sun to a brown orb. The boys, of course, insisted on getting out with their Dad. The chaos surrounding us made me uncomfortable, but they began dancing in their seats, so I agreed as long as they stayed with Rob.
After a few minutes, Rob realized he couldn’t see anything and told the boys to get in the van. He climbed into the driver’s seat, and started to back out, but a problem had developed.
Drivers no longer obeyed the laws of the road. Instead of two lanes going opposite directions, four lines of cars faced south, most I’m sure were locals who were evacuated from West Glenwood. Then on the south side of the intersection there were cars that had just been forced to leave I-70, because officials chose to close 70 miles of the interstate, from Dotsero to New Castle. Since most of those drivers weren’t local, they didn’t know where to go. The intersection looked like a parking lot. And in the middle of it all, one lone law enforcement officer worked to keep traffic moving, because no one paid attention to the stop light.
Rob stayed calm, eventually making it through the chaos, and across the bridge, again. I prayed that everyone stayed level headed, keeping the situation from escalating.
After driving another ten miles, we made it to Mom and Dad’s, and as always they welcomed us with open arms. Numb, mentally and emotionally, I had lost all sense of time. I finally felt like I could breathe a little, and take time to think about the day.