The day started like any other workday. My sessions were online from my home office in Superior, and despite heavy winds which are not uncommon for this time of year, there was nothing particularly unusual about that Thursday. Little did I know, that December 30, 2021 was the start of the day of one of the most destructive fires in Colorado’s history, with over 1,000 homes and businesses burned down and destroyed. Our community of Superior and Louisville, a small quiet suburb outside of Boulder, CO was ravaged by these fires causing unprecedented damage in this suburban area, that I call home.
The memories that flood back to me, are looking out my window seeing the black smoke everywhere, and realizing how much closer it was than I would have thought. A client told me from a nearby town that they were evacuating, and after turning on the news, realized we had to get out very quickly. My mind froze when thinking about what I should take with me from my home. Trying to get my cats in their carriers, something they hate with a passion, and that panicky feeling that what if I could not. How could I transport them? Waiting for an hour in the car, we all tried to evacuate at the same time from the town. Seeing the encroaching fire coming over the ridge of our hometown.
I think I speak for most of the members of my town, that watching the news that evening, as our town and homes were in flames, was a surreal, crushing experience. Not being able to do anything, as we just saw more and more flames go higher into the sky, not sure what would be left if anything. Trying to fight that strong desire to return to my town and do something, if only to be closer. Of course knowing, that being closer to the fires would only make the firefighter’s job all the more difficult, as they tried to save as many homes as they could, from the fires. Living on open space, I knew the chances of my home catching on fire were higher, and I tried to make peace and accept that I may return to cinders and charred memories, rather than my home.
The day following the fires has left an indelible impression in my memory. Returning to my home after the snow arrived, covering the ashes temporarily with much-needed moisture, was a heart-wrenching experience. Seeing homes burned to the ground, with only bits of cement left, where a family once lived days earlier. Seeing the military trucks blocking the streets, to protect what was left from looters and people curious to see the destruction. Breathing in the noxious smell of fire and off-gassing from the destroyed homes. My home survived, and I was left with this terrible feeling of why was I so lucky, why did my house get to remain? What about all the people who came home to their razed streets, homes, and charred trees with nothing but cinders and cement remains.
Despite the harrowing experience, I have been amazed and graced with blessings. What still brings me to tears, when I reflect on that first week returning after the fires, was how everyone came together to support and care for one another. The outpouring of support from friends and neighbors, people I had not heard from in years, was incredible. People checking to see what they could do to help and just hearing their shock and sense of helplessness was comforting in an odd way, despite no one really being able to do anything. The first responders, working through the night and weeks following the fires, to secure our town, still brings me to tears. All of the volunteers who donated their time to give back, such as handing out space heaters to the homeowners without heat, after the fires. The tireless gas line employees worked to close off all-natural gas lines that had erupted during the fire. And the electrical workers struggling to get power returned to the entire region.
What also struck me as a surprise after the fires, was how my children and their friends were affected by the fires. Being young adults, coming out into the world, with the goal of experiencing and seeing as much of the world as possible, their love and fondness for their hometown was honestly surprising. Seeing my daughter crying and breaking down was painful enough, but hearing her talk about how special the town she grew up in was, and how she loved her walks on the paths, fondness for her schools and the playgrounds, and all of her childhood memories was bittersweet.
It was so wonderful to see her appreciating and loving the home she grew up in, but overwhelming and sad, at the same time. The realization set in that there would be a long road to recovery, for our small, lovely community to be restored to what we knew and loved. What we do realize now, is that oftentimes we don’t recognize and realize how special something is. A town not only is a landing place, but it holds all of our memories, our growing pains, our happiest and most difficult times. It is not just where we reside, but that which we hold most dear to us. The idea that all of that can change in one single night, is a stark reminder of the impermanence of our world.
As the weeks following the fires progressed, people shared their terrifying escape stories and sadness about the fires. People remarked about how friends would say, in an attempt to be kind, in response to their house burning down, well it’s just “stuff” it can be replaced, at least you are all ok.” Clearly, in an attempt to be comforting, however, those words are not comforting and minimize the pain one feels having lost their home. Our home and physical items represent all of the things that we have worked towards, our family memories, our dreams, our safe comfort in the world, our investment for the future. What people need after losing their homes, is compassion, kindness, and simply someone to listen to their story, not platitudes or attempts at making them feel better, by reminding them it could be worse. That does not heal trauma, listening to their stories does. Hearing about their loss of family photo albums, understanding their loss of treasured items, sympathizing with the loss of pets, and recognizing that some families lost all their physical possessions, is the path to healing.
Seeing how people come together to support one another after the tragedy, and how we all want to support and give, gives me faith in humanity and our ability to care for another, This outpouring of kindness and love has been awe-inspiring. This overwhelming realization that we are all connected and want to help one another and feel others’ pain, will stay with me.
I do know that we see the best in people during crisis and people come together in ways, they never had imagined, despite living next to one another for 20 years. The outpouring of support to ensure our community had heat, water, clothes, places to stay for the displaced, and shelters for lost animals shows me that people care so much for one another deeply and we have a natural desire to support and care for others and our neighbors. As I think about the journey ahead of us rebuilding our town, I am deeply humbled and proud of our community. I recognize and am reminded of the fragileness of life. How quickly our homes, our businesses, and our belongings can be extinguished. But I am even more reinforced by our strength and resolve as a community, as neighbors, as friends to survive and overcome!
If you have been affected by the fires, please reach out for additional support and free counseling services offered for displaced services. I offer trauma counseling and brainspotting to support those recovering from the fires. Reach out today. There are also many resources available to support families affected by the fires. Monica Ramunda, MA, LPC, RPT-S is the owner of Rocky Mountain Counseling Services.
Originally reprinted at YourTango.