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From a fire to a pearl

Jim Rottenborn and his family were on vacation when the Waldo Canyon Fire ripped through their Mountain Shadows neighborhood, burning their house to the ground.Rottenborn, a foreign language teacher at Falcon High School, and his wife, Carrie, moved to their house in 1998, less than a year after they got married. ìIt was the only place any of our kids have ever lived,î said Carrie Rottenborn.The fire sparked on June 23; and, by June 26, it had raced down into Queens Canyon from its point of origin in Waldo Canyon.ìThe Waldo Canyon fire had confounded fire managers for three days ñ defying normal wildfire behavior, making nightly runs when most blazes sleep, and dancing with erratic winds,î according to a July 15 report from ìNormally, fires slow down when they hit a ridgetop. This one didnít. It ran downhill almost as quickly as it did uphill.îìWe were visiting friends in Ohio (when the fire started),î Rottenborn said. ìWe had a house sitter, and she called on that Tuesday (June 26). The first message she left said that it was a voluntary evacuation. The second message said to call her. The third message said the evacuation was mandatory.îTen minutes after speaking to the Rottenborns, the house sitter had to evacuate. ìThe sitter grabbed some of our insurance documents,î she said. ìI had her grab three antique rings that my mom bought for each of our daughters. ì Rottenborn said she considered having the sitter grab the CDs and DVDs containing their daughtersí baby pictures, but Rottenborn said she didnít think the fire was an imminent threat.ìWaldo Canyon doesnít seem too close to Mountain Shadows,î Rottenborn said. ìWe really didnít think that it would be a problem. It seemed so unlikely that the fire would cross Queens Canyon.îìWhen the flare crossed on Tuesday afternoon, we were in Kentucky at the time,î Jim Rottenborn said. ìWe were watching the news conference and saw a newspaper that said Flying W Ranch was completely engulfed in flames and that 10 acres east was in flames. I strongly suspected at that point that our house was probably gone.îRottenborn said he and his wife tried to get information about the status of their house; meanwhile, the media was not allowed to publish photos that would identify any structures.ìIt took about 36 hours for Carrie to find a picture of the house,î Rottenborn said. The family was watching the news from rural Kentucky, and Rottenborn said he felt like he couldnít get any answers.Cell phone coverage was spotty and authorities were asking people not to call anyoneís cell phone, he said. ìEveryone we know only has cell phones,î Rottenborn said. ìWe would call for about 30 seconds and ask quick questions, but most of the time we couldnít even complete the call.îAfter finally reaching friends and family for updates on their house, Rottenborn said the answers werenít conclusive. ìThey would say, ëWe donít know what to do, the smoke is so thick.í They didnít know more than we did.îThe family returned from their vacation July 4 and set up house at Carrie Rottenbornís motherís home until they could find another place to stay.ìA friend said there was a rental house close by, so we dropped our girls off and went to see it,î Rottenborn said. ìIt was about two or three blocks from our house. The rental is closer to the girlsí friends and closer to their school than we were before. Weíre glad to have it.îThey still had not seen their own property because the police and the National Guard would not let them in. ìWe got within 100 yards but couldnít see the property itself,î Rottenborn said. ìWhat we could see was devastating.ìWhen you have something like this happen, you are thrown onto a really steep learning curve.îThe aftermath of a fire can be challenging, he said. ìI think some of our neighbors just want it to go away and have someone come in and make it better.î He said part of the problem is the sea of disreputable people who will try to cheat victims of the fire. ìItís exposing the fact that people are short on money, and some of them will do anything to take your money,î Rottenborn said.ìThe fact of the matter is weíre getting the best out of a lot of people. I expect this to be the high point or one of the highest points in our life. Around the world, people are reaching out to us.îCarrie Rottenborn said their daughters are handling the loss in their own way. ìItís been hard on our 5-year-old,î she said. ìItís always right there under the surface and it doesnít take much to bring it back. Our 10-year-old feels it in the sense that we donít get to talk as much or play games as much. Our 7-year-old had a special teddy bear that was lost in the fire that she got from Penrose Hospital. Her grandma contacted Penrose and asked about getting her another one. Penrose went out of their way to get her one and presented it to her in a really special way.ìThe Falcon community in particular has been really amazing. Working at the high school like he (Jim) does, he comes into contact with a lot of people in the community, and theyíve really responded in an overwhelming way.îShe said the family has received bags of books, clothes and toys; gift cards; money; and, three times a week for six weeks the family received a prepared meal.ìWeíve been very mindful of the good things and the things to be grateful for,î Jim Rottenborn said. ìWeíve been thinking about how we would respond if something like this happened to someone else. It makes you want to reach out more quickly.îRottenborn said his family plans to rebuild, but for the time being they are looking at the situation in a positive light. ìI was thinking about oysters and how they form a pearl around an irritant,î he said. ìI think the fire was that irritant and the community is coming around to bless us. They are turning that irritant into a pearl.î

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