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Life in the shadow of the Colorado wildfire: beware of hungry bears

One couple forced to evacuate their Colorado Springs neighborhood unexpectedly is allowed to return and finds good news, eerie sights, and reports of famished bears.

By Melina VissatContributor / June 30, 2012

Rich Harvey, incident commander, talks to the media during a news conference about the Waldo Canyon wildfire in Colorado Springs, Colo., Friday.

Chris Carlson/AP

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Colorado Springs, Colo.

This, apparently, is life in the shadow of the fire line.

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Just three days ago, my husband and I were in the long line of cars leaving our Colorado Springs neighborhood, wondering – like everyone else who had been given the evacuation order – if we had just seen our house for the last time, not to mention our carefully tended vegetable garden, our wedding china, and the antique sideboard I had painstakingly refurbished.

Now, unexpectedly, we are back home.

We assumed we'd be back Sunday morning at the earliest. We had made plans to stay with friends in Denver over the weekend. We had made reservations for our pets to be boarded. We had even reserved a hotel room for the following week, just in case.

Instead, we got the word Thursday night that the evacuation order had been lifted from our neighborhood.

Now, we find ourselves in a relatively undamaged house but virtually alone amid what seems a ghost town, the burning summit of Blodgett Peak still glowering to the north, the neighborhoods across the street still darkened and barricaded because they remain under mandatory evacuation.

Police squad cars, lights flashing silently, guard against looters. According to police scanner traffic, at least 40 homes in the burn area have been broken into. We hear rumors of wildlife sightings as animals flee the flames.

As of yet, we have had not met any looters or hungry bears. But we have met Valerie and Jeff, two neighbors we’d never seen before.

Only a few people have come back. I expect most are staying away because we are still under a pre-evacuation order – in other words, stay tuned, we might be forced to leave again if the winds on Blodgett Peak kick up.

As I stand on the sidewalk, swapping stories with our newfound neighbors about where we found shelter, the charred mountains smolder above us.

As of Friday, the Waldo Canyon fire had consumed 16,750 acres and nearly 350 homes. Two people have died in what is now the most destructive fire in Colorado history, and reports of missing peoples are surfacing.

And the fire is still burning. Reports Friday say it is 25 percent contained.

But we are thankful. For us, the news could hardly be better.

When the evacuation order was lifted Thursday night, we watched a line of vehicles follow a pace car up Garden of the Gods Road, Woodmen Road, Rockrimmon Boulevard. We stayed behind for two hours, worried about traffic and chaos.

But all was calm. Though the fire perimeter is less than a mile away from our home, no embers landed on our lawn, in our trees, or on our roof. The ash was minimal. Inside, the smell of smoke is strong, and a fine grey residue covers most of our surfaces, but the house is fine.

We even have power and natural gas, unlike the 1,000 evacuees without electricity and 4,200 without natural gas.

But our cars remain fully fueled and our belongings are packed neatly next to the door. A framed photo of my husband on his beloved motorcycle? Deemed extraneous. A forgotten childhood toy? Quickly hugged and stuffed into a bag.

And we’re going to keep those hotel reservations for next week.

If the call comes again, we’re ready. 

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