11 January 2022

Frying Pan

I shouldn't have been, but I was shocked when I searched my photo website for "fire" and "smoke" while looking for photos to illustrate today's blog post. Sunday was the 30th anniversary of a fire that impacted me personally, and the timing singed already raw nerves following the devastation that occurred just north of me on December 30, 2021.

Fire is a horrible thing with which it seems we must live. As I scrolled through more fire photos than I realized I had taken, I was surprised to remember so many forgotten fires, but also comforted because I apparently was able to put many of them behind me. Or at least on a back shelf of my mind so they couldn't keep me awake every night.

During 2020, we experienced the biggest wildfires in Colorado's history. In December, we experienced the most costly wildfire in the state's history.

And now, just 11 days after the Marshall fire destroyed approximately 1,100 miles, one of my co-workers from my journalism life, who also lives near where the Boulder County fire occurred, remembered our own fateful day in January 1992. She had shared photos from our fire on the 20th anniversary back in 2012. The memory came up on her page ten years later during a time when our hearts are still aching for our neighbors. The photos she shared helped us remember how we survived our own fire.

The Trail-Gazette twice-weekly newspaper in Estes Park burned in the early morning hours 30 years ago due to sparks from faulty wiring inside a pop machine on the other side of the wall from my editor's office. This was before cell phones, email and internet. I found out about the fire when I arrived at work and saw the fire engines. The flames were gone by that time, but the entire inside of the cinderblock building was black.

The six-year-old son I was trying to adopt had gone by the building in his school bus, and he assumed I was dead. He didn't know until I picked him up that afternoon that I was not in the building when it burned.

My youngest sister had died tragically just 11 months earlier, nearly to the day. The photos I'd taken of her in her youth and teens had been on my bulletin board, in frames on my desk, and in a memory book in one of my desk drawers. Two photos survived. It was almost like losing her all over again.

My desk was one desk away from the editor's office. As community editor, I was in charge of a card catalogue in which many community editors before me had kept track of every person ever named in the newspaper. I'd contributed to the collection for a little more than four years. The card catalogue was a total loss, as was the file of published newspapers, located on the opposite side of the building from where the fire ignited, where bulk rolls of newsprint were stored.

It was a small office, with just a handful of employees. Everyone lost personal items. Everyone lost everything they kept at their desks. The publishers had over-insured the building and its contents, but in the long run, insurance paid less than half what the building and its contents were worth.

The local high school opened a classroom and provided computers so we could get the next issue of the newspaper out on time. From scratch! We had to learn a completely new computer system almost overnight. That classroom ended up being our "office" for the next three or four months, followed by the hollowed-out shell of an abandoned store for more than a year while the real newspaper office was rebuilt.

The newspaper and eight of my co-workers (plus a handful of other employees I never had the chance to meet) had survived the Lawn Lake flood ten years earlier, and the newspaper continued on then, too. The publishers had baseball caps made after the fire that read, "No Hell or High Water..." for the employees who had endured both extremes.

There are so many painful memories from that period in my life. There was so much uncertainty. And yet, we never gave up. We held on until our knuckles were white, and we just kept showing up and doing the best we could every day.

Now I'm watching as the Front Range rallies to help our neighbors who lost their homes, and many who lost their pets. I hear two human lives were lost, also...

I'd been faking a smile since New Year's Eve. I didn't know how anyone could possibly overcome the devastation that has occurred. I needed to remember what happened to the newspaper I loved 30 year ago. I needed to remember things didn't stay bad forever. I need to embrace hope and share it with today's survivors. Together, we really can make it through this.

1 comment :

  1. I'm so glad that all the fire I have had in the house stayed always where it has to be, in the oven. However, I never take a fire lightly.

    Take care!


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