USA –-COLORADO SPRINGS Mark Stanislawski held his wife, Lucretia, as she cried Wednesday morning. She trembled as she recalled Tuesday night’s evacuation from their home.
“Horrifying. It was absolutely terrifying watching those flames,” Lucretia Stanislawski said.
The two live in the Rockrimmon area and were ordered to evacuate from the Waldo Canyon Fire shortly before 5 p.m. They spent the night in the Red Cross shelter at the Southeast YMCA in Colorado Springs.
While she was driving south on Interstate 25 Tuesday evening, Stanislawski watched the sky darken as she approached her home.
“It got blacker and blacker. When I got home, it was pitch black, and ash and embers were flying everywhere,” Stanislawski said.
She could not call her husband because the smoke was so heavy it was clogging cell phone service. Within 17 minutes of arriving home, Stanislawski was out the door again with whatever she could pack.
“There were just flames, flames, flames,” she said.
Stanislawski was able to reach her husband through a friend.
“It moved so quickly,” Mark Stanislawski said. “It’s unreal to be in something like this.”
Evacuees are trickling in and out of the shelter. The Salvation Army is handing out food and water. The smoke to the west blocks out any view of the mountains.
Mari Crannell drove from her home in Fountain to volunteer at the YMCA shelter.
Crannell said the she felt very blessed that her son made it home from a camping trip last weekend that came dangerously close to the fire.
“I have to help,” Crannell said as she unloaded diapers from the back of a truck.
Crannell was at the shelter Tuesday night as evacuees began to arrive. When she returned to the shelter to check in with the families this morning, some had learned that their homes were destroyed. Most were still waiting for news.
“The not knowing was hardest for everyone,” Crannell said.
Wednesday, Crannell was with a woman when she found a photo of her charred home on the Internet. It was the first time the woman had learned her house had been destroyed.
“I gave her a big hug,” Crannell said. “I held her hand while she got the help she needed.”
In addition to her time, Crannell donated coolers, snacks and helped assemble food boxes for evacuees and firefighters. The community response has been overwhelming, Crannell said.
“I think our community is extremely strong. There’s been an outpouring of support I’ve never seen before,” Crannell said.
A traffic jam of cars fleeing the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs heads east on both sides of Woodmen Road on June 26, 2012. (THE DENVER POST | Helen H. Richardson)
The Rodriguez family’s truck could barely hold all the food it was carrying. Carts of milk and juice were buried under layers of canned goods, bread and snack food.
Lorena Rodriguez, her husband and three sons eagerly unloaded the food at the Red Cross shelter at the Southeast YMCA.
“It’s too sad. Some people worked so hard and now they’ve lost everything,” Rodriguez said. “This time it’s someone else, we could be the next ones.”
The Rodriguez family decided to help earlier Wednesday morning while they were eating breakfast together. From their kitchen table they went door-to-door in their Colorado Springs neighborhood collecting whatever they could.
Few people turned them away, Rodriguez said.
“I’m so proud of our community,” Rodriquez said.
Jacki Grad and her family moved into their home in their Peregrine area a little more than a year ago.
Saturday her family was put on pre-evacuation notice and she packed their belongings. When they were told to evacuate Tuesday evening they were ready, she said Wednesday.
“When I went out to the car, ash was falling and it was glowing orange,” Grad said.
Grad said she only drove about a quarter mile before she arrived at a stop sign. She sat there for about 45 minutes before they began heading down the mountain.
While it was obvious people were concerned and in a hurry to get down the mountain, they remained polite. It took several hours to complete the drive that usually takes 7 minutes.
“I kept looking back to see if the flames were behind us,” Grad said. “When we reached I-25, I looked at the mountain and saw orange balls of homes burning. That’s when it turned dire.”
Grad and her family drove to Denver to try and book a hotel room. They were all booked, Grad said. The closest available room was in Fort Collins.
After spending the night in the shelter at Lewis Palmer High School, Grad woke to a fire that had doubled in size.
Grad feels confident that her home survived the night, but on Wednesday she stared at the plumes of smoke rising off the mountain.
“Today’s winds are concerning,” Grad said. “Clearly our community will be change forever. The question is are you going to be able to go back to something.”
Cole Cook was working at the Garden of the Gods on Tuesday when he first saw flames along the ridge above the park. When he looked up 10 minutes later, the flames were 100 yards up the hill, he said.
“It looked like something out of a war zone,” Cook said. “The smoke an ash smothered everything. Cars had to turn in their head lights.”
Cook broke loose from the congested traffic near the park just in time to return to his home in the Rockrimmon subdivision and grab some belongings. But in the hustle of it all, he lost his wallet and phone.
He had just enough gas to get him to the Red Cross shelter in Monument, where he has spent most of the day stranded.
“It’s just sad,” Cook said sorting through a car trunk of clothes and other belongings. “I feel helpless knowing there’s such a big fire and nothing anyone can do.”
Ray Olvera did not think the flames would move over the ridge toward his home. Tuesday night when he looked out his window, he could not believe how close they were.
“The flames jumped the ridge and were heading right toward us,” Olvera said Wednesday. “At that point it became an ‘Oh my God’ moment.”
Olvera packed what he could.
“By the time I closed the hatch of my car, it was black pouring smoke and ash everywhere,” Olvera said.
When he broke loose from the stop-and-go traffic on I-25, he drove to the shelter in Monument where he spent the night.
Ardene Hagadorn remembers barreling smoke right before she fled her home on Garden of the Gods Road.
“I watched the smoke build at work all day,” Hagadorn said. “When I got home, it all turned into a whirlwind right then.”
Hagadorn packed what she could. Before, she left two officials had stopped by her home and told her that “she had to leave now.”
From her home Hagadorn went to a grocery store parking lot to call her mother. It took her hours to get out of the lot and to the shelter in Monument.
“It’s all scary and unbelievable,” she said. “But I’m here and we’re safe. Everything else can be replaced.”
Hagadorn did not know how close the fire got to her home overnight.
Kim and Brian Hoff were not surprised when a fire started near their home in the Mountain Shadow subdivision, but they were shocked by how quickly the flames rolled toward their home Tuesday afternoon.
Brian Hoff was at home when he saw flames spewing about 50 yards from his back door. “I looked out and saw immediately that the flames were heading straight toward us.”
Visibility was less than 50 feet as he Hoff drove down the mountain. As he drove, “glowing balls of fire” broke through the thick smoke.
The Hoffs are now staying with family in Monument. Hoff father’s home, located in the Kissing Camels area, wasn’t visible Tuesday.
Hoff said he’s preparing for what he might go home to.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Hoff said. “Realistically I’m thinking we’re going to go back to charred remains of what we had.”
City officials are working to help the evacuees.
“We will get through this together and we will be stronger,” said Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach at a Wednesday morning news conference.
The American Red Cross has opened shelters for some 26,00 evacuees of the Waldo Canyon Fire at YMCA Southeast Family Center, 2190 Jetwing Drive, Colorado Springs; Cheyenne Mountain High School, 1200 Cresta Road, Colorado Springs; Lewis Palmer High School, 1300 Higby Road, Monument; Summit Elementary School, 490 Meadow Park Drive, Divide.
Evacuees are encouraged to go to Red Cross.org to register and check in with family and friends.
The Salvation Army is currently feeding evacuees at the YMCA and Cheyenne Mountain High School.
People are dropping off supplies at Lewis Palmer High School. Volunteers are working to build an area for animals behind the building.