NEWSLETTER BLOG UPDATE LINKS

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 August 6, 2012:

Progress Report & Pics on the Fire -
  Colorado High Park Fire Update

(contains photos - please be patient as they load)
 

Progress Report

 
People are so great. Today we had our first cleanup work party, organized by a church group in Cheyenne, and supplemented with friends from Parker. Don’t feel left out – it came together quickly and we will certainly be scheduling more for the near future and will let all of you know! In the meantime – please pencil in the afternoon of Sunday, August 26. Mike is planning a surprise… an email will come soon with details.

The youngest volunteer for our erosion-control work party didn't mind getting dirty at all!

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/dirtynoah.jpg

 
Hard to believe it was exactly eight weeks ago yesterday that we lost our house to the fire. So much has happened so fast, and every day goes by and I can’t account for it. I know each day is filled with taking care of necessary things, but unexpectedly I’ll find I can’t even remember the end of a sentence. It's a frustrating and funny side effect of all of this stress.
 
This week I made great strides in getting my new office set up, and I’m feeling more peace already. I’m looking forward to making headway on the massive project of catching up on two months’ worth of mail, phone calls, emails, and business.
 
So many of you have sent us gift cards and donations, and we are so grateful. The insurance company has been great, but your generous help has allowed us in the meantime to put gas in the car, groceries in the pantry, buy household items, and given us the ability to focus on taking care of the mess. I honestly don’t know how people with full time jobs can do everything that needs to be done in this kind of situation. It takes so much time to contact all the banks and insurance people, make lists, get necessary items, make arrangements for sifters and debris removers and tree cutters and still keep the business details from falling through the cracks…it can feel overwhelming.
 
I’ve been trying to write for weeks, but we had to spend 10 days tending our booth at Cheyenne Frontier Days, and each night I came home exhausted. Please accept my apologies for the delay.


Our booth at Cheyenne Frontier Days. I'll admit it was hard to focus on work right now.
http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/cfdbooth.jpg

 


So – I took inventory, and I have a comfortable little set of almost-matched dinner plates, bowls, salad plates, and a few extra saucers. We have plenty of glasses, and a friend loaned us silverware and plastic storage containers. It’s really rather humorous – a few nights ago, Mike and I decided to make spaghetti. We located two pots for sauce and pasta, found an appropriate frying pan to brown the meat, and then were almost stumped when we remembered our colander no longer existed. What to do? Ah ha! I remembered I used to have a little sturdy plastic one I had been using the past year to wash brass casings to make my bullet reloads. I fetched it, washed it, and voila! Spaghetti was served!
 

Wildlife and Greenery

 
I asked my sister, Stacy Moore, a professional photographer who lives in Boulder, to please come to the land before the sifters arrived, so she could document what had happened and help me start our inventory list. We walked the mountain, and were surprised and thrilled to see so much greenery already sprouting on the lower slopes. Rich green grass was spreading where the ash flows had provided nutrition, and little aspen trees were popping up everywhere. At this rate, I’m guessing the mountain will have green underbrush all over it by next spring. That will be very nice to see.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/aspennew.jpg

 
I spotted a mother elk and her little brown baby calf coming out of a surviving aspen grove across our meadow a few weeks ago, and a few days ago I saw a mother deer and two darling spotted twin fawns scampering across the road as we drove home after dark. Yesterday we saw four mule deer bucks in velvet. A little red fox was out hunting, and birds and ground squirrels are plentiful.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/fawn.jpg

 

Sifting

 
On July 17, the cavalry arrived in the form of 20 wonderful people from Franklin Graham’s ministry, Samaritan’s Purse, in white plastic protective suits. They removed all the warped roofing, what was left of the appliances (the refrigerator burned so badly it came out in two pieces), and piled all the metal into a huge stack. Then they began sifting the rubble from any area where we thought they might find valuables. Mike found a couple of trophy belt buckles and other melted nostalgia items, and I found my hematite necklace collection fused together, as were my seed beads. They found a fair bit of stuff, but unfortunately, the majority was not salvageable. It has been estimated the fire hit our house at about 2700 degrees, and that extreme temperature melted glass and ruined everything. Of all the broken dishes and warped items they fished out of there, I was able to salvage – (drumroll, please) one saucer. Ah well. At least we could list things for insurance, and say goodbye.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/samaritans.jpg

Of all the things they found, only one solitary saucer was salvageable in the end.
http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/salvage.jpg

Mike hams it up with the remains of a pair of his goggles.
http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/goggles.jpg

 
One of the cutest things found in the ruins were two nests of baby bunnies – 15 in all! The mothers used to nest under the deck of our house and behind the woodshed, and must have come in after the ashes cooled and made their little families. We collected them and took them to the Humane Society, since I feared they would be easy prey and we were having a debris removal team come soon. I was contacted by phone a few days ago, and the Humane Society wanted to let me know they plan to use the bunnies for a promotional piece. Such fun!

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/babybunny.jpg

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/bunnieshands.jpg

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/bunnybox.jpg

 

Debris Removal

 
They came and took away our house this past week. It’s odd and disturbing inside to see your home carted away, bucket load by trailer load. The professional debris removal team did a wonderful job. They were polite, hard workers, thorough, and respectful. In only four days they were able to do what would have taken me and Mike so much longer, caused more pain, given more grief, and worn us out even more than we already are.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/dozerash.jpg

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/dozerdebris.jpg

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/dozertrailer.jpg

 
It was a strange mix of sadness at seeing the ruins hauled away, and a feeling of peace as the land was restored to bare earth. We have up to two years to decide if/how we wish to rebuild, so we will probably let the land rest through the winter, and take our time making such a large, important decision.

     http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/bareearth.jpg
 

Mike and I are still emotionally, mentally, and physically whupped. We’re getting things accomplished, but only one at a time, and it takes everything we’ve got to stay focused. In a way, it feels like we’re recuperating from a long illness – we have to pace ourselves, we have little reserves, and are easily tired.
 
But something happened a couple of weeks ago – I started to have momentary flashes of feeling normal. For just a few minutes at a time, I forget the constant focus of the fire and its results, and my mind strays to an inspiration for a new show, or wants to design a new historic outfit. Granted, it’s like someone with a broken leg getting a fleeting notion to run across the room, but it’s still a nice change, and definitely a move in the right direction.
 

Things you don’t think of…

 
We came home about a week ago, to be greeted in the door by the strong smell of…skunk! Nuts! Just when we had the house cleaned head to toe by the smoke removal team, some vagabond skunk, possibly a fire refugee, had passed by and we suspect spent the day under our house. Critter-proofing our studio from skunks was yet one more thing we hadn’t expected to have to do, but the fire has pushed our hand on the matter.
 
We’ve never owned a dryer up here, and I always hang our laundry to dry in the sun. I have to time it carefully these days, since we are prone to God-blessed afternoon showers. I have to make sure I bring it in before the rain hits the mountain and the smell of burnt campfire infuses my sheets. And now… the smell of skunk, too!  Ha ha.
 
As many of you know, we have had a pine beetle infestation in this part of the country for years, and thousands of acres of forest have already been killed off across the mountains of Colorado. The trees around our house were relatively unscathed, but since the fire, the beetles have been attacking our charcoaled trees mercilessly, since they are attracted to stressed trees. At night, you can actually hear the beetles grinding their way into the trunks. It’s eerie.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/blackgiant.jpg

One of the thousands of "ash pits" across the landscape - weird alien footprints where entire trees used to be, now burned completely away to their very root structure.
http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/ashpits.jpg

 
Now that the debris team has carted away the ruins, we are left with a large empty dirt space where there used to be our home and five outbuildings. We’re having trouble wrapping our brains around it. It’s so odd to see nothing there. We can still see every detail of our home in our minds, and now, it’s just vanished. It’s so weird.
 

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/bareearth2.jpg
 

Upcoming projects

 
Mike and I are formulating ideas of how all of you can help (since so many of you are asking), and I hope my next email to you will list some specifics. We are already starting to schedule a number of “work party” days. We need to clear underbrush, plant grass, rake up remaining debris and burnt areas, build a storage shed, remodel/improve and fire mitigate our studio, and hopefully have a fundraiser for the local volunteer fire department, all just for starters. Thank you for your continuing offers to help. I promise you we’ll gratefully accept. And remember... hold August 26!
 

In closing…for now…

 
Good news – Squiggy (the neighbor’s lost cat who miraculously survived the fire and was finally reunited with his owners a month after the disaster) is OK! He’s turned the corner, his poor burnt feet are healing, he’s putting on weight, and his owner says he’s turning back into his finicky, loveably cantankerous self.

Squiggy at his owner's apartment, getting healthy and lovingly ornery.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/squiggynow.jpg

 
Well, once again I’ve gone on longer than I intended. Thank you, thank you all again a hundred times for your love, prayers, and support during all of this. I wish to stress for you again the fact that while we’re not “alright” yet, we’re getting closer, bit by bit. We’ve already begun sketching plans for a sweet new storage building on the site of the old utility shed, and we have kind and highly skilled friends giving us advice and ideas on how we can rebuild and/or remodel. It will be a long time until things are “normal,” but it feels so good to have flashes of inspiration now and again. We are finally sleeping better and longer, I'm using my "eye-pad" far less often, our cat loves us, God is good, and so are all of you!
 
We will keep in touch. Please call or write anytime. We will continue to try to catch up with everyone as we can.
 

Most sincerely and with great appreciation,
Sharon & Mike Guli
PO Box 127
Bellvue, CO 80512
970-221-2992
(Yes, our land line is operational!)
 

The following letter was sent on July 12, 2012:

 

Ash Day Reality Check -
  Colorado High Park Fire Update

(contains photos - please be patient as they load)

(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:

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/valleybeforetitle.jpg

Part of Paradise Park during the fire:

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/paradiseparktitle.jpg

 
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.
 

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/downedtrees.jpg
 

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/burntearth.jpg

 
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.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/ashonmtn.jpg

 
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.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/watershed.jpg


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

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/culvert.jpg

 
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.
 

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/mailboxmelt.jpg

 
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.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/utilitypole.jpg

 
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.

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/marrysign.jpg

 
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!

http://rivercrossinginc.tripod.com/firepictures/squiggybefore.jpg

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