Wind and Fire

December 31, 2021

Our family moved to Boulder, Colorado in December 1965 for my Dad’s new job at NCAR.  There wasn’t a house to be found as IBM had moved in six months ahead of us.  My parents purchased a piece of land 7 miles east of Boulder on Davidson Mesa, overlooking the Colorado Front Range and Boulder valley.  


When they built the house, it was the only one on the western grassy slope of Davidson Mesa. Others would slowly be built on neighboring lots over the following years and decades. 



I remember walking the lots and trying to choose which one would be the best to build on.  My folks wanted to be high enough to have unobstructed views of the mountains and of Boulder valley.  As the house was being built, I remember my Mom, the daughter of a masonry contractor, pulling down the brick walls with her hands and telling the workers to build it right with the proper reinforcements and tie downs. The electrician who was having an ongoing feud with the general contractor for some reason, decided to wire the house in a crazy way as payback, which resulted in my Dad and I having to pigtail every outlet in the house and spend days trying to figure out which outlet and switch was on which breaker.  We had to permanently label all the outlets and switches and a room might have been wired to as many as six different breakers. 



We moved in on Halloween, 1966 amidst a snowstorm.  Over 100 kids made their way up the muddy road and driveway to trick or treat that year! 


In the first couple of years, we experienced torrential thunderstorms, which swelled the expansive soils around the house that then cracked the foundation.  We had to have expensive drains dug and placed around the perimeter of the house to keep the home from being torn in two and to keep water out of the lower level.  


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My parents poured their blood sweat and tears into the home. They created gardens, planted trees and shrubs. They created an environment that the birds and beasts flocked to.  They held parties and gatherings and loved sharing the beauty of their home with others. They hosted guests from all over the world and gave refuge to others when they needed a place to stay.  Despite the house’s problems, it was a special place.


Every winter, the winds would come – the Chinook, that swept down from the mountains, bringing warmth at first, followed by snow as the front moved through.  


 January 6, 1969, one of these windstorms came with winds of 130 mph or more, and with it, devastation.  It took the roof of our home and the roof of one a couple of lots away. It cause two major fires, one on the side of Green Mountain near the Quarry, and the other at Boulder Airport, where it flipped planes, tore apart airplane hangers and burned the airport and planes leaving little behind.  


It was a terrifying experience to have the windows explode outward over my head, to have my Dad slammed into the wall by flying closet doors, to see the 13 foot high wall of living room windows curling into the middle of the living room and to see gaping holes, where ceiling and roof once were; and later to watch the raging fires from the safety of a neighbor’s home throughout the rest of the night.  


1999 Fire

Thirty years later, when I was in a home of my own, we experienced a house fire, two days before Christmas.  The house and our belongings were a near total loss.  We lost two kitties.  But thankfully, my 4 kids had been spending the week with their dad and weren’t at home. I literally had the clothes on my back, my purse and my car.  Everything else was gone.  


It was catastrophic and until it happens to you, the magnitude, while imagined, is not the same as the reality of it.  The smell, the sounds, and the loss of a place where you feel safe and secure – it’s un-imaginably difficult.  


There were blessings too; such as the incredible support that we received from neighbors, the community, and from family, friends, and co-workers.  They carried us through.  We learned that our possessions were just “stuff” and mostly replaceable. We learned that what truly mattered were those we loved.  We were alive.  We were uninjured.  We were together.  And we could, and did, make a new home for ourselves.  New kitties came into our lives, and more than enough stuff to fill a house.  


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My parents home was damaged by high winds again in 2004, when winds over 90 mph blew the double front doors right out of their frame.  My dad and I caught them as they blew in and held them in place in 75-90 mph winds while my Mom found and brought us the wood, hammer and nails to secure them in place to prevent further damage.  The framing around the door had to be rebuilt when the door was later replaced.


Yesterday, on December 30, 2021, the two big disasters of my life melded together.  Another ferocious windstorm barreled down, knocking over power lines, that then sparked wildfires in the grasslands at the western end of Davidson Mesa.  The fire spread rapidly pushed by winds of 90 to 115 mph.  As it raced towards the towns of Superior and Louisville on the south side of Davidson Mesa, emergency personnel went frantically to warn and evacuate people ahead of the firestorm.  Miraculously, as of right now, there appear to be no missing people; that everyone may have gotten out  - a true miracle.  Over 35,000 people evacuated ahead of the flames.  


The town of Superior is virtually lost.  Over 500 homes on the western side and the old town area are burned to the ground. The shopping center, including a Target, Costco, and many other shops, are gone.  


As evening wore on, the fire moved into other neighborhoods on the western side of Louisville.  It moved across the top of Davidson Mesa down the northwestern slope where we had lived and on into the Paragon and Spanish Hills neighborhoods.  

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 I watched the news clips, hoping for a glimpse of my childhood home.  And then I saw it for just a few moments; that easily identifiable pattern of windows, unlike any other in the neighborhood, filled with the orange glow of fire.  


While this morning, it appears that a few houses may have survived; it also appears that nearly every home along that side of the mesa while I was growing up has burned.  



This fire takes with it so many memories.  While I never wanted to live in that house again, because of how the wind impacts it on a regular basis (I’m truly terrified by high winds), I will miss knowing that it’s there.  I won’t be able to take my grandchildren to show them the house that their great-grandparents built, lived in, and loved for 43 years.  I will miss knowing that no one will sit and take in the sunrise glow on the mountains from that living room window, or the glorious sunsets over the mountains with Boulder’s twinkling lights in the valley below.  They won’t be able to watch the birds at the feeder from the breakfast table as they enjoy their morning coffee anymore.  The house will no longer be filled with the presence of so many family and friends, as I know the new owners also did.

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My heart hurts for the thousands of people who have lost their homes, and those who also lost their pets. I know what they are experiencing this morning; losing everything they own in the blink of an eye; knowing they have literally thousands of decisions to make over then next few weeks and months as they rebuild their lives.  

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It is so hard to put into words all the things I am feeling about this tragedy in my home region of Boulder County, Colorado right now.  All the disasters of my life seem rolled together in this new one.  And while I am not directly impacted, it erased the areas of my growing up years.  It has brought these earlier disasters back into sharp focus.  The old anxieties have resurfaced as what was once familiar is now changed irrevocably.  Life will go on, and the old home will live on in our memories and the photos that remain to us.  And I'm enormously grateful that the loss of life appears to miraculously be zero as I write this.  The things that are important, aren't our houses, the views, but the people who live within them, and those still remain!  

I pray that all these people who have lost homes will once again find peace and joy, new homes, and that they cherish their loved ones and hold them close.


Shirlee Fassell said…
Lisa so sorry that you have to relive in such a stark way the tragedy of the loss of your home. I will keep you in my prayers.
LindaSonia said…
Prayers for those impacted by this terrible occurrence and prayers and hugs for you too...
Janice Smith said…
2021 has been such a cruel year with Covid and natural disasters devastating areas of our country. We can only pray that 2022 will be better for all.

Your childhood home must have been a wonderful place to grow up in.

Stay safe.
Donetta said…
Thank you for sharing both the beautiful and painful memories of your childhood heart goes out to those who are impacted by the current fire, and to you for reliving your terrible loss.
Robin said…
Thank you for sharing you childhood memories. So sorry you have to relive the memories of the terrible loss. Yes, most of us have no first hand idea what it is like for flood or fire. I cannot begin to imagine the devastation that some have faced with the storms, fires and floods this year all the while dealing with Covid. Blessings and prayers to you.
Shawkl said…
So thankful that families are not mourning the loss of family or friends. Yes, things can be replaced. My sister lost their home to fire a few years back, also getting out only with pets her purse, their cars and the night clothes on their back. It took months to get back to any real "normal" life for them...and even now she has moments of just such sorrow over precious photos and antiques gone forever. It's difficult to find blessings in the mist of such sorrow and devastation...but they are there; we just have to hunt for them at times. Wishing all touched by this tragedy new hope for this New Year. Sending hugs to you today Lisa!

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