Colorado family with local ties to Sheboygan County loses home in Boulder County wildfire

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From left to right, Kate Baer pictured next to her nieces Julia and Jaden Crawley, and their mother Stephanie Baer.
From left to right, Kate Baer pictured next to her nieces Julia and Jaden Crawley, and their mother Stephanie Baer.

SHEBOYGAN - The family of the previous owners of local restaurant Brown Baer in Elkhart Lake lost their home and all their possessions in a wildfire that swept across a Colorado neighborhood on Dec. 30.

Mike and Kate Baer had been the owners of Brown Baer, 181 E. Rhine St., since 2002. In May of last year the two sold the restaurant. Kate is also the executive director for the United Way of Sheboygan County.

On Dec. 30, Baer's young nieces, Julia and Jaden Crawley, were forced to quickly evacuate their home in Superior, Colorado, with their dogs and the clothes on their back.

The two teens noticed heavy smoke and flames engulfing their home that afternoon. They quickly grabbed their two pugs and the lab they were dog-sitting, and climbed into their mother's car to escape.

"We didn’t know if we were going to be pulling out into fire, so we were planning on going as fast as possible," 18-year-old Julia told the Colorado Sun.

"If we were 2 minutes behind, we would have been in our home with our house on fire," 15-year-old Jaden stated in the article. "By the time we got fully out of our neighborhood, our house was probably already on fire.”

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Their mother, Mike's sister and Kate's sister-in-law, Stephanie Baer, was in Wisconsin when she received the news of the fires. She quickly boarded a plane back to Colorado, wondering if she would have a home to go to when she landed.

As a result of high winds, the fire quickly spread throughout the neighborhood and county. More than 600 homes were destroyed, including Stephanie's, leaving about 35,000 people homeless.

"We believe our corner was the first housing area to get hit and the one furthest from the entrance of the neighborhood," Stephanie wrote on her Facebook page. "The realization of how very few moments my girls had to get out is sinking in and it’s overwhelming."

The family, and many others who were impacted, now must scramble to try to put their lives back together after they returned to the ashes that were once their homes.

After the fire, the family stayed in hotels and with different friends and family. Donations from the community provided the family with clothes and supplies for going back to school.

The two girls are still trying to cope with their traumatizing escape and the aftermath of the fires.

Julia told the Colorado Sun that she is now afraid to drive after having to navigate through black smoke and high flames all while uncontrollably coughing from heavy smoke. Her sister tears up at the thought of all the things they lost.

On Jan. 1, Kate posted the link to a GoFundMe on her Facebook page, in an effort to help her sister-in-law and nieces after the tragedy.

"Their home and neighborhood was burned to the ground leaving them heart broken and devastated, along with hundreds of other families," Kate wrote on her post. "We do know that this amazing and resilient family with time, love, and support will rise up out of the literal ash and devastation that was 12/30/21."

As of Sunday, the GoFundMe has collected more than $53,000 in donations with a goal of $70,000. The GoFundMe is still active for those who would like to donate.

Last week, Stephanie and her daughters were able to secure a rental home for the moment while they figure out the next steps in their journey.

Kate also encourages people to help other families who lost their homes and personal belongings by donating to those in Boulder County.

On Jan 9, the family was able to visit the site of their old home and sift through the ashes for any items left behind.

Kate Baer with Stephanie Baer and volunteers searching through remains and ashes of her former home in Superior, Colorado on Jan 9, 2022.
Kate Baer with Stephanie Baer and volunteers searching through remains and ashes of her former home in Superior, Colorado on Jan 9, 2022.

"That was just an incredible, cathartic process to grieving to see if they could find anything," Kate said. "It was very humbling and surreal, and the entire space looked very apocalyptical. I've never seen such destruction."

Wearing hazmat suits and facial coverings, Stephanie and her daughters, with Kate's help, were able to find a few items with sentimental value underneath the ash and debris.

Stephanie's family is closely related to Eusebius Bassingdale, the founder of Garton Toys which was established in Sheboygan in 1878. Bassingdale is her great great grandfather.

Although it was damaged by the fire, a Garton Toy Kidillac family heirloom was recovered from the ashes and able to be saved.

A burned Garton Toy next to a burned Kidillac family heirloom found in the remains of Baer's former home on Jan 9, 2022/
A burned Garton Toy next to a burned Kidillac family heirloom found in the remains of Baer's former home on Jan 9, 2022/

"We pulled it out of the ash and it was completely blackened and burned," Kate said. "[Stephanie's] going to try to keep it, it just meant so much to her family."

Reach Jelissa Burns at 920-226-4241 or jburns1@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @burns_jelissa or on Instagram at burns_jelissa.

This article originally appeared on Sheboygan Press: Colorado wildfire destroys home of family with Sheboygan County ties

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