In June 2012, Colorado experienced the worst wildfire on record. This year, we topped it. I say “we” because I’m a resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and last week, I, along with hundreds of others, watched our property burn. There’s nothing quite like watching your home burn — whether it’s your personal residence, or the area surrounding where you live — the desperation that grips you, knowing there’s nothing you can do but watch, is beyond words. But even in the midst of this tragedy, there’s a silver lining: When things look bleak, the generosity of others will surprise you.
Last Tuesday, Colorado Springs had record-breaking temperatures of 97 degrees. Adding to that was the fact that Colorado was, and is, in the middle of a drought — perfect fire weather. Around 1pm a call came in that there was a fire burning in the area known as Black Forest. Firefighters responded to the scene quickly, but the conditions allowed the fire to grow from 15 acres, to 7,500 acres with 300-foot flames, in a matter of hours. In the initial run, a reported 60 homes burned.
From Tuesday through Thursday, firefighters tried desperately to slow Black Forest Fire’s growth. The military and aircraft were brought in, and the fire was upgraded to a Type 1 Incident — the most severe type of wildfire — but despite everyone’s best effort, Black Forest Fire grew to 14,280 acres, killed two, and destroyed 509 homes. As of today, more than a week after the fire started, Black Forest Fire is at 95% containment, and is officially the worst Colorado wildfire on record.
The light in the darkness
For me, Black Forest Fire burned the property where my husband and I are building a home — but we’re lucky. Our lot burned, but we didn’t lose everything. 509 other families weren’t that lucky. That’s where the community of Colorado stepped in.
During the fire, thousands of people donated food and beverages to help firefighters fighting on the front lines. In fact, when organizations like Care and Share mentioned a need, donations would flood the center. Additionally, thousands of people volunteered to help in whatever capacity was needed — animal rescue, call center manning, you name it.
Local businesses also stepped up. Last year, Tucker Wannamaker, a business owner with Magneti Marketing, helped start where 100% of profits go to help victims.
When I asked him about this effort, he said, “Wild Fire Tees launched on a Wednesday, the day after the Waldo Canyon fire moved through a big neighborhood in Colorado Springs. We thought we’d sell a couple hundred tees. That was way off. By the end of Thursday, we’d sold $170,000 worth of tees.” Tucker credits this success to a combination of social media, people’s deep love for Colorado Springs, and an overall desire to help.
Now, Wild Fire Tees is at it again and selling tees to raise money for victims of Black Forest Fire. Tucker said Wild Fire Tees’ goal is to raise $500,000 for victims, and considering they’ve already raised $400,000, their goal is not far off. When I asked him what makes Colorado Springs so special, and what drove him to help, he said, “We’re a community that bands together. I think the whole state is really that way. There’s something magical about this state of ours.”
Wild Fire Tees isn’t the only local business to help fire victims. Poor Richards Restaurant offered complimentary pizza for fire victims and firefighters, Tucanos, another local restaurant, offered free lunch on Sundays to evacuees, and The Sky Sox, a local sports stadium, offered free upper reserved seat vouchers to people donating food, and other needed goods — that’s just a few of the hundreds of business that stepped in to help. And that’s not all.