By LC Grady
Current and former residents of Black Forest, along with other guests, attended a Black Forest fire remembrance event June 10 at the Log School Park outside of the Black Forest Community Center. The event, 10 Years of Recovery, commemorated the devastating fire that started June 11, 2013.
The fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado history at that point, took two lives, destroyed 488 homes, burnt more than 14,280 acres and killed a number of animals. It took nine days to contain. The cost to fight the fire totaled $9.23 million, but it was estimated to cause $420 million in damages to the region. Reminders of the devastation can be found throughout the community; to this day, it is considered a cold case, according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
The Black Forest Community Club organized and hosted the event, and kicked it off with a flag ceremony; Boy Scout Troop 70 passed under a large national flag suspended between the Colorado Springs Fire Department and the Black Forest Fire and Rescue ladder trucks. The commemoration included several speakers and performers. The Colorado State Forest Service and Slash Mulch SAMCOM manned an informational tent. Eric Gehrke and Carolyn Brown handed out flyers and booklets and educated the public on tree transplanting and care, as well as how best to prepare a home and property in case of a wildfire, which included planting grass seed mixes that reduce wildfire hazard.
Kelly Marchbank, one of the event organizers, reminded everyone that the 10 Years of Recovery event’s emphasis was on restoration. “A lot of people are still in the recovery mode, a rebuild mode, but our hope is that the community pulls together so that we have some restoration; and that this event will bring attention to the outside of the Black Forest area, to let them know that we still need help,” Marchbank said. He then introduced the featured speaker, Congressman Doug Lamborn, who talked about the community spirit: “During this horrific disaster, we saw members of the Black Forest community jump into action to provide assistance to friends, neighbors and strangers,” Lamborn said. “They offered to drive children, pets and belongings to safety, while seeking their own refuge from the flames. Neighbor helping neighbor was an amazing sight to behold and even continues down to today.” He also recalled how El Paso County Sheriff deputies and Colorado Springs firefighters worked together to provide swift action and save many homes. He noted that restaurants fed hungry firefighters and local churches showed up to provide relief and counseling to those who were affected. Lamborn said his office worked hard to get the 302nd Airlift Wing’s two firefighting C-130s from the Peterson Air Force Base to attack the wildfire.“I will continue to fight for the federal government to continue to fund wildfire prevention efforts that will benefit Colorado,” he said.
Brandi Kuiper from Pikes Peak Highlanders performed Amazing Grace on bagpipes, and attendees held a moment of silence for the two fire victims, Marc and Robin Herklotz, killed by the fire in their garage. They were both longtime members of the Space Command at the Schriever Air Force Base, Robin was a 1984 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate.
Jeffrey Platt from the Black Forest LDS Church introduced the “Just Serve” program, which networks organizations and individuals through community service; he encouraged anyone with existing needs to come forward and visit the website justserve.org for help.
Carolyn Brown, the director of the slash /mulch program, talked about the day her own home burnt down. She escaped with her dog and horses to Latigo, only to be immediately evacuated again because of the raging fire. After checking with several hotels that were full, she found one that also seemed to have no vacancies. “I really need a room,” Brown pleaded with the clerk. When he hesitantly told her that the only room available was a smoking room, she shook her clothes and said, “Smell me!” After the laughter in the audience subsided, Brown introduced the slash/mulch program, started for mitigation of the Forest. The program is currently in danger of being shut down because of too much mulch. “The gentleman who would always haul away any remainder of our mulch is no longer able to do that. I need everyone to have a mulch pile in their backyard,” Brown said. “Or we won’t be able to continue. If the mulch isn’t gone, we can’t start a new year.”
Nate Dowden, chair of the Black Forest Fire & Rescue Board of Directors, said, “A fundamental role and responsibility each of us has in helping to reduce the chances of another massively destructive fire like the Black Forest Fire of 2013 is embracing good forest management practices. Our Black Forest Fire department is your local resource to learn about and implement the Firewise Program, a tool that informs and guides each of us to better prepare our properties to reduce wildfire risks.” More information on the program is available at https://bffire.org/firewise-program.
Gary Kruse, who lost everything in the fire, recalled the day when his family left their home to attend a Little League game — and that was the last time they saw their home. “I have a set of two pictures,” Kruse said. As he showed a framed picture to the audience, he said, “This one is of my 9-year-old pitching at that game while the fire is burning his home. Two months later, I have this picture that they captured at the All-Star game; only two months later, going from devastation to championship.” He said the lessons were bigger than the losses. “I hope that someday we can all embrace that belief.”
After the conclusion of the formal events, guests were encouraged to visit the various tents, grab some food, along with donated saplings to replant. Mountain View Electric Association had a demonstration of power line safety and how to manage trees around power lines.
BF Lamborn: Congressman Doug Lamborn was the featured speaker at the Black Forest fire commemoration event.
BF bagpipe: Brandi Kuiper from Pikes Peak Highlanders performed Amazing Grace on bagpipes.
BF flag: The 10 Years of Recovery event kicked off with a flag ceremony by Boy Scout Troop 70 that included the Colorado Springs Fire Department and Black Forest Fire and Rescue.