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Fire aftermath leaves mixed emotions

Dale Shrull

Despair turned to euphoria.Happiness turned to guilt.The fire had elected to spare our house. But why? How did an uncontrollable blaze avoid our home?As I rode in a van filled with Mitchell Creek-area homeowners, the emotions were as powerful as the destructive blaze that ripped through our neighborhood. We were given a tour of the area. The opportunity to examine the damage. A chance to see if our homes were still houses.Everyone was hopeful. We all needed to see if our homes had survived. Then we could move on to the next step.The scene at the corner of Highway 6&24 and Mitchell Creek Road was devastating.”It looks like a war zone,” one of the passengers described.I saw the charred remains of our friends Michel Field and Troy Gordon’s home. Michel’s precious 1956 Chevy Belaire remained parked in the driveway, gutted by the fire. Craig Amichaux is another friend. All that remains of his home is a sturdy chimney.They weren’t on this van. They would see the emptiness that once was their homes, on another tour of the fire scene.I’m familiar with this type of scene, and it pulled at my emotions. In 1981, a fire left my family homeless. A chimney and a determined bath tub were all that remained from that fire.Now, 21 years later, I was faced with that same possibility. When the evacuation order pierced my neighborhood, I grabbed a few belongings and glanced at the hillside above our home and saw flames. The smoke was so thick and dark, I could barely see Mitchell Creek Road.It would take a miracle for our house to survive. I was sure that our home would be destroyed by this unmerciful fire. I was prepared for the worse. I was prepared to see a destroyed home.As I discovered, the Coal Seam fire showed mercy. It spared our home, our next-door neighbor’s home, Doc Bowles’ ranch and others. But for homes belonging to Michel and Troy, and Craig, and many others in West Glenwood, there would be no mercy.As the van approached our home, I felt light-headed and almost nauseous. “Be OK. Be OK.” I whispered to myself. Finally, I swallowed hard, took a deep breath and looked down from Mitchell Creek Road. The site snatched my breath. Our home was safe and intact.I wanted to rejoice, euphoria engulfed me, allowing myself to bounce up and down slightly on the seat. All my anxiety drained from my body. “Thank you,” I whispered to myself. But there were others whose homes we hadn’t seen yet.Several people wished me “congratulations.” I was uncomfortable with the term, but I thanked them, and wished them good luck as the van approached their homes. I hoped that this van would be filled with more happy stories – like mine.But it wouldn’t.Dennis Dunlap’s home was next. It was gone. He peered out the window not saying a word, shaking his head. His father’s old Ford pick-up sat in the driveway, virtually untouched by flames.Why him and not me? Why will Michel and Troy have to rebuild and my wife and I will get to go home soon?The trip continued up Mitchell Creek. The Gabossi’s house was secure, the fish hatchery suffered only minimal damage.Farther up the creek, things were not good. Stan Rachesky and his son Peter prepared for the worst. It was the worst.Peter called a friend on his cell, and chose the perfect sentence to describe the devastation. “The fire was very selective.”Very selective. Yesterday, when I was sure my home was destined to become a statistic, I was prepared for the worst. I was ready to look for the silver lining. I got so much more than a silver lining.Relief turns to sadness.Sadness for my friends, and the people who I don’t know. They are now homeless, left with nothing but memories. It’s a feeling I know well from the 1981 fire. It’s a feeling that never goes away. The feeling that re-emerges every time I see the results of a devastating fire.For some reason, the Coal Seam Fire selected its homes.I congratulate all of you on your courage.My thoughts are with all of you.Despair turns to hope.Dale Shrull is the editor of the Citizen Telegram newspaper in Rifle.


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