You know the wildfire is coming. You can smell the smoke and see the flames up on the mountain. Then, with little or no warning comes the knock on your door and the order to evacuate, and you and your family have to leave the familiar and are thrust into the unknown. It is a terrifying time. This is what happened when the Waldo Canyon fire exploded into a fire storm and 32,000 people in the mountain communities west of Colorado Springs were forced from their homes.
As terrifying as evacuation is, try and imagine how it would be if your family was also separated by the fire. Not knowing where your spouse and children are, if they are safe and well – this is the terrible situation that the Fredrick family found themselves in on June 23.
“I left Lindsey and the kids at the place where we were staying in Green Mountain Falls to run a quick errand Saturday afternoon,” recounted David Fredrick. “We were all watching the progress of the [Waldo Canyon] fire, but it didn’t seem to be a threat to us. I was only going to be gone a few minutes and come right back.”
That short errand turned into a three day separation. What had begun at noon as an isolated brush fire exploded into a major 600-acre fire by 3:00 p.m. on June 23, and as the fire advanced towards several communities along the US 24 corridor, evacuations began. With thick smoke filling the air, police came to the Fredricks’ door and gave the family only twenty minutes to evacuate. Lindsey grabbed kids, clothes, and few important papers and were driven in a police car fifteen miles up the canyon to the American Red Cross shelter at Woodland Park. However, the fire continued to advance and forced the evacuation of the shelter. After only about an hour there, Lindsey and their three children (Sam, 10, Sid, 4, and Lilly, 2) were taken ten miles further away from the fire to safety at the American Red Cross shelter at Divide Elementary School. Dark plumes of smoke and ash hung in the air and people at the shelter wore masks because of the smoke. It was a tense time for everyone.
David had not returned. She and the children spent three anxious nights there without him, uncertain about David’s fate.
“I was definitely anxious about where David was, and what the damage will be to our place and if we’ll be able to make it back,” Lindsey said. “It’s definitely stressful. All of our material possessions are there. The kids are antsy and stressed out because they are in an unfamiliar setting.”
Highway 24 was closed because of the fire, and David was unable to get back home. He had no idea where his family was and wasn’t able to find out. It would be three days before the family was reunited.
“I didn’t know where they were, or if they were safe from the fire,” said David. “I came down the canyon and stayed with friends in Colorado Springs, worrying the whole time.”
Highway 24 was finally opened again when the immediate danger there had passed, and with the help of computers at the Red Cross shelter in Divide, David and Lindsey located each other. Lindsey and the children got a ride down the mountain to Colorado Springs, and after three nervous days apart the family was reunited at the Red Cross shelter at the Cheyenne Mountain High School.
“It is good to be together again. Those three days, not knowing where they were, were horrible,” said David. “But everything has worked out OK, and the Red Cross folks here at the shelter have been really great to all of us. The kids are having a great time playing with the other kids at the shelter, and everyone is doing well.”
David found out that their place in Green Mountain Falls was not affected by the fire and all of their possessions were safe, but that they would not be able to return there to live. “We’ll need to find another place to live,” David said. “But the Red Cross is helping us.”
In addition to providing a safe place to stay, cots and meals, the Red Cross also works with residents at shelters to help them through what, for many, has been the most traumatic event in their lives. Red Cross client case worker Patricia Morgan met with the Fredrick family at the Cheyenne Mountain High School shelter.
“I worked with Lindsey and David to identify the areas where the Red Cross could assist them directly, as well as referring them to other resources and community partners who could help,” said Morgan. “We were able to get them connected with several programs at the Disaster Recovery Service Center that would be able to help, and Lindsey spent most of a day there.”
The last residents at the Cheyenne Mountain High School shelter were able to leave on July 6 and the shelter was closed. The Fredrick family was the last to leave. They had been at the Red Cross shelter eleven days and were facing an uncertain future. Unable to return to their home in Green Mountain Falls, a community partner of the Red Cross was able to find another place for them to stay while they put their lives back together.
“We are very fortunate, and I can’t thank the Red Cross enough for helping us out,” said David. “There have been a lot of Red Cross volunteers who kept our spirits up. We couldn’t have done it without you!”