FIRST PERSON | COLORADO SPRINGS -- The thin, wispy trail of smoke I first noticed on Saturday afternoon was so deceiving.
"They'll have it out in an hour," I told my husband.
We've had brush fires before. Our fire teams are on it. They're good, they're fast, and they've got our backs. Besides, the fire was way over there. So, it was with little worry I sent my husband out of state on business Monday morning.
When I headed for work in Denver early Tuesday, the sky was smoky, but not concerning. What a difference a day makes.
I didn't have time to check for an update all day, so my first inkling things had changed was about 5:30, about the time I hit Castle Rock, halfway between Denver and the Springs. I could see smoke. A lot of smoke. The closer I got, the slower the traffic. Looky-loos, I figured. I decided to get off at North Gate, one of the most northerly roads to get me where I needed to be.
It was like driving into hell.
The sky was orange, filling the car with that eerie green-gold light that always foreshadows bad things. What wasn't orange was black, and the sky roiled with the clouds of smoke. I switched from the iPod to the radio. They were evacuating. Not my neighborhood. Not yet anyway. But the closer I got to home, the heavier the smoke became. It was like ground fog, filling all the spaces with white, settling in the low places. It smelled like camping. Ash was falling on my car like the faint beginnings of winter snow.
"Gather your belongings, be prepared," the newsreaders said. "Take your financial papers, your medications, your pets." I told myself: And Grandma's crystal candy dish. Take what you can't replace. For the rest there's insurance.
"Honey, if you're in a meeting, get out, I need to talk to you now," I said when my husband picked up the phone in California. "What do I need to take?"
By midnight the car was packed. The memories of a lifetime could be just that by morning. By 2:30 exhaustion overcame anxiety and I finally fell asleep, the phone by my side waiting for Reverse 911 to tell me to get going.
The call never came for me. But for others there is a need to start over: "I have my family safe, the rest is just stuff." Take care my friends, take care.