June 13, 2012
The Colorado High
Park Fire and Us
June 29, 2012
High Park Fire
Pics & Update
July 1, 2012
Our First Trip
Back to "Paradise"
July 12, 2012
Ash Day
Reality Check
August 6, 2012
Progress Report &
Pics on the Fire
August 16, 2012
Before & After
Fire Pics
September 12, 2012
After Fire
Progress Update
September 27, 2012
Work Parties and
Donkey Story
November 29, 2012
OK - The Black
Truth Blog
January 2, 2013
Looking Forward,
Looking Back
June 18, 2013
One Year Later -
The High Park Fire
September 20, 2013
We Weathered
the Storm


The following letter was sent on July 12, 2012:


Ash Day Reality Check -
  Colorado High Park Fire Update

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(In between everything else, I'm still working on getting links to photos and articles put together for you. Thanks for your patience…)


Okay, so I’m here alone for the first time. I admit, it’s kinda weird. Reality check time.
Mike left this morning to meet with State Farm to give them the floor plan of the burnt house and photos of what it and the other four lost outbuildings used to look like. He’ll be back in a few hours, but being sandwiched between the poor scorched mountain on one side and our carcass of a house on the other is affecting me.

Part of Paradise Park before the fire:

Part of Paradise Park during the fire:

Sunday morning, I rode horseback up the burnt mountain with a neighbor, and I think seeing the damage that close and realizing the enormity of the loss knocked me off center for the rest of the day. I came back from the ride, and that afternoon I just stood outside, looking from the black mountain to the ruins of the house, and cried and cried.

Other weirdnesses – in town earlier this week, I stepped outside the hotel, and the wind was blowing, and I realized I had developed the habit of my stomach clenching, wondering if the fire was kicking up again and threatening our home or someone else’s. You look west to the clouds on the mountains, and my first thought is to wonder if what I see are storm clouds or smoke clouds billowing up. I turn on the A/C in the car, and the smell of smoke from the mountain comes out.
The second time we visited the mountain, every time there was a breeze, dead pine needles rained down by the thousands, ash grit blew in your eyes, and clouds of ash wafted up from the mountain. When it rains, the black gets even blacker, and the whole valley smells like a campfire. I washed my face this morning, and black came away.

Ash drifting from the burnt mountain in the wind before the rains came to wash it away.

At the little local post office in Bellvue, which had to be evacuated at one point because the fire came too close, locals now gather to share stories, and when no one is there, you see the ash tracked in on the carpet, ash that used to be homes and the beautiful forest.
All this is strange, but part of the cycle. The good news – we have had enough rain now to give us reassurance, and the pre-evacuation status on our neighborhood has long since been lifted. However, lightning still makes me flinch, and since an intense forest fire can cause the ground itself to become water-resistant, there are now washouts and mudslides closing certain local roads.

Rain water makes rivers coming off the mountain in a recent storm.

Paradise Park neighbors discuss the best way to repair a crushed culvert on our road.

Mike and I moved back “home” for the first time yesterday afternoon. We’ve been visiting the mountain daily for about a week, meeting with insurance adjusters, neighbors, working the road to prevent erosion, and taking care of things while the professional cleaners spent four days wiping down every surface of our studio (including the ceilings and walls) to remove smoke residue. Then they evicted us for 24 hours while they ran an ozone-generating machine to cleanse the air of the smells, and then steam-cleaned the rugs. While we have been comfortably housed during this evacuation, we still had slept in seven different locations in 31 days, between hotels, business trips, and family. We were ready to come home and put things away in drawers. So we checked out of the hotel, collected our things from storage, and slept for the first time on the mountain last night since June 9.
It’s good to be here. We’re still chock-full of positive attitude and future plans, but the reality is, the month of stress has taken its toll, and I’m finding myself “crashing” at unexpected times. We’re both short-tempered, but don’t mean to be. We’re both tired all the time, and are having trouble concentrating or finishing sentences. We’re jumpy and hyper-sensitive. We’ll be alright, but we know this is going to be normal for awhile.

Imagine leaving your house rapidly, never to return. You reach for things, then remember they’re gone. Little things, like jackets and your comfy slippers. Big things, like a family memento or an expensive item you forgot to grab. I’m keeping a list nearby now, to write down everything we need to replace for daily living. Last night we picked up a monitor, speakers, keyboard, printer, and ink so I can set up a new office (I worked out of the house). I need to get all the little silly but handy stuff, too, like a stapler and paper clips. We have to replace everything from bread and eggs to salt, ketchup, and mayo. Three days ago, even before we moved in, Mike bought a quart of milk and some Cheerios, just so he could feel “normal.” All we had in the studio was soup, tea, hot chocolate, honey, and popcorn. Kinda hard to make a meal…  : )
Today I have to make a bunch of phone calls, and try to get caught up on having been gone from the office for a month. This is a busy time of year for us with gigs and events, and we have to maintain. At the same time, we have five buildings that need to be sifted through and hauled away. Assessors need to be called, along with the phone, gas, satellite, and power companies. Actually, I got a huge laugh when the phone company representative on the cell phone said to us, “I understand you don’t have dial tone at your home?” Understatement of the year, considering the entire thing is burnt to the ground!
I’m also now surrounded by piles of stuff that need to be put away somewhere. I have spent very little time in this building for the last five years, since my office was in the house, and Mike had settled in very comfortably in the studio. Now we have to work out a whole new system of being in each other’s space in this smaller living area. He has moved his office into his painting studio, and I will set up my office where it first was when I moved up here over six years ago. I have to remember where to put things like in the old days when we shared this bathroom and bedroom. We have one dresser to share, instead of two and a wardrobe. But that’s OK – we have fewer clothes!  Ha ha. And I am very grateful we have a place to return to, as so many others do not and will have to live in a hotel, shelter, rented apartment, or with friends for a long time to come. Between our fire, the one in Estes Park, and the one in Colorado Springs, over 600 homes were lost.

Our local power company, REA, has done an incredible job getting electricity restored to our damaged neighborhood.

We have had so much love and offers to help sent our way. Friends are chomping at the bit to come help us remove debris and rebuild, but we’re still in a holding pattern until the insurance people finish their paperwork and approvals. Our homeowner’s insurance company, State Farm, has been great, but things must follow a path, and we have to be patient. The business insurance company has been less than satisfactory so far, unfortunately. We greatly appreciate the sales we were able to make in New Mexico at the SASS End of Trail festival, but other than that, Mike has basically been “out of work” for a month now.
For every one of you who gave us a donation or gift card, thank you so much! Donations are being put to good use, either for paying for a mortgage on a house that doesn’t exist anymore, or gas or food, and the gift cards are so helpful to buy clothing, toiletries, and countless other items most people already have. Mike and I have two teaspoons, seven forks, miscellaneous bowls and plates, and enough pots to cook spaghetti, and I’m grateful we have two sets of sheets and towels for the guest room. I’m really looking forward to when the insurance is resolved, and I can go shopping in the right frame of mind to pick out my own set of dishes and cutlery again.
More good news - we have everything we need to get the business back on track, and Mike and I are strong and creative. Yes, of course we’ll have emotional fallout and be running behind schedule for awhile as we re-settle. That’s to be expected. Yes, being here alone with the ruins is disconcerting for me, but I have to get used to it sometime. In the meanwhile, I have all of you to share with, and whether you read this letter or not, it helps me to talk about it.
I am compiling lists of what needs to be done, and believe me, I will certainly be sending out the call when we need a team up here to take care of a job. There will be plenty of work for everyone who still wants to help. Out of eight structures on the property, we lost five, and a thousand trees.
I’m also planning to host a fundraiser ball for our cherished volunteer fire fighters, six of whom lost their own homes in this fire while they were defending others. I’ll keep you posted.

My favorite of the scores of signs of appreciation lining the streets of the High Park Fire area.

I’m not nearly as depressed as this letter may sound, but some of you may want to know what it’s really like, and I do have my moments. We are dealing with a loss, after all, and our whole world has been rocked. The view from my kitchen window will never be the same. But in the meantime, we have a job to do, and we will do it well, because that’s who we are. There is still plenty of laughter, and God is taking good care of us, and has blessed us with a home to which to return, a lush green meadow and a surprising number of untouched trees, and good friends and family. We’re mountain people, and have the pioneer spirit, and we’ll be fine.

Here's a good note to end on - tonight, after Mike had returned, a stray cat came by our place. With the patient help of a friend, we were able to catch him. The bottoms of his feet were burnt, he was skin and bones (he only weighed just over 5 pounds), was covered in fleas and terrified, but still sweet. We made a call, brought him to our vet, and were able to reunite him with his owners, who are our next door neighbors who lost everything on their property, and who had not seen their cat since the fire broke out. Poor guy - with his damaged feet, he must have suffered greatly and was starving. They thought he was lost forever, but Squiggles is now in good hands, receiving love, care, and medical attention, and it sounds like he has a good chance of making it.

Squiggles, belonging to our neighbors, lost when the fire broke out, found and rescued today!

Thanks for your continued thoughts, prayers, and support.
Sharon & Mike Guli
PO Box 127
Bellvue, CO 80512


Our First Trip Back to "Paradise" -
the latest Colorado High Park Fire Update

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OK, we’re back from our first trip to our mountain neighborhood, Paradise Park, since we were evacuated three weeks ago. First fact – the house is TOAST! It’s now just a huge hole with burned out pieces of blackened metal junk. The fire was so hot it melted glass. However, I was surprised to clearly see a few clean-looking mugs and at least part of a plate. We could also make out the charred outlines of things like the washer, stove, microwave, two file cabinets, and the warped metal frame of what used to be Mike’s favorite recliner.

Mike and I were both surprised at how practically we handled it, even making jokes and laughing when we identified something in the rubble. I think this was due in large part because we were thrilled at how much prayer, firefighter, and angel-protected green surrounded our place. And the studio – the blessed protected studio! – looks like it was gone on vacation for all this disaster, and was plunked right back down in the middle of it all. It’s beautiful and perfect! We walked in, flipped a switch, and power had already been restored! The water is good, and all of our sewing machines, business machinery, resource books, and costumes stored in this building are wonderfully safe! Of course there is a smell of smoke, but we’ll see if insurance can help clear that out.

The miracle Studio/Shop - our new home.

So, while we will certainly mourn the loss of our beautiful house and its treasured contents, we’re so glad we can return “home.” The studio is where Mike and I lived the first year we were married, so coming home to it is a warm experience. Besides our work rooms, Mike’s office, and storage space, it also has a guest bedroom, a cute little kitchen and dining area, and bathroom. At this point, we’re talking of moving into the studio, where we already have a collection of second-best dishes and towels, and sheets for the guest bed, and everything we need to live while we start the cleanup and rebuilding process. One current idea we’re considering is to rebuild a new studio on the site of the old house (complete with a new guest/client quarters), and then once that’s finished, move into it while we gut and rebuild the current pieced-together studio into our new home. That way, I’ll get the sewing room of my dreams, Mike will have a painting studio with perfect north lighting, and we will redesign our new living space together.

Mike's beloved Spencer Mountain, viewed from our front door across the meadow, was scorched to the top. This is one of Mike's greatest regrets. Hundreds of other trees on our property will need to be removed, too.

Mike views an ash flow across our property, caused when any little bit of rain falls on the burnt areas. Erosion control is now a concern.

In the meantime, Mike will begin the financial task of juggling filling leather orders again with having to take time off from leather work to do the necessary months-long job of cutting down and removing hundreds of dead trees, making sure the neighborhood road stays passable due to possible mudslides and erosion, removing debris, and planning and re-building our outbuildings and home.

The point is - we have a plan, and we’re gonna be OK!

Mike's garage and tractor were unscathed! It started right up - good thing, because we're gonna be needing it for all the cleanup.


Thank you to everyone for your continued care and prayers. As you have bountifully offered, we will gratefully accept your help, because this task is too great for just the two of us. Some help will be financial, some for comfort, some with the loan of heavy equipment to clear and build, and some with physical labor. We have a long road ahead of us, but it’s ahead, not behind. Behind us is the pain, tears, fear, and loss, and ahead is the joy of a new road. We’re both artists and designers, you know, and the challenge and joy of what we will plan and what is to come has a great appeal.

Not visible in these photos, our green valley is now surrounded by about 1/2 mile-wide band of black, some of which was torched so fiercely the actual ground is burnt. Too many of our neighbors lost everything, and have nothing but blackness and ash to which to return, if they have the heart. Our miracle oasis has encouraged us to return to Paradise Park and rebuild. Thank God for you and your prayers, His angels, and the brave firefighters from across the country and beyond.


For all of you who wrote and called, I hope in the coming weeks to be able to speak with each of you personally to give you my heartfelt thanks. Thank you for your understanding and patience. Every single email, card, and phone message was read, heard, and appreciated.

This is not the last you’ve heard of us!  : )
I’ll try to keep you posted as our journey progresses….
Most sincerely,
Sharon & Mike Guli
PO Box 127
Bellvue, CO 80512

PS: I plan to post more photos soon on Facebook to be viewed publicly, and will let you know when and give you the link.