EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Terrie and John Gardner lost their home in the Black Forest Fire just one year after losing a home in the Waldo Canyon Fire.
The Gardners have been living for the past year with Terrie’s parents in the Black Forest area of El Paso County, a few miles away from the Waldo Canyon aftermath. They’ve been trying to rebuild their lives, painstakingly compiling an insurance company list of all the belongings they lost in the fire.
Then on Tuesday, lightning struck twice. The Black Forest fire exploded in the afternoon, flames pushed by erratic, dry winds.
Terrie and John Gardner were not home at the time, so Terrie’s father had only minutes to pack what he could before the flames railroaded through the area.
“The clothes on our back, and my purse and the cars and that’s it,” Terrie says of the things her dad had scrambled to save before escaping. “Everything we had managed to store out at my parent’s house is gone. Baby clothes, everything.”
John, who was at work, watched on TV as his second home in a year was turned to a pile of smoking debris.
Even the new furniture they’d just bought for their nearly rebuilt Waldo Canyon house is gone.
By the time the Black Forest Fire was tamed, it had claimed two lives and nearly 500 homes, becoming the most destructive Colorado wildfire ever.
For having endured a dose of disaster double jeopardy, John and Terrie are remarkably upbeat and determined to carry on.
“This one was a little more difficult,” John says, “because all the little family mementos, all the little things we had saved up are now gone and they’re not coming back. But it’s not the end of the universe. It’s not that big of a deal.”
The Gardners say their unusual experience makes them perfect for helping others ease the trauma after the Black Forest Fire.
“The really cool thing is that we get to help people,” John says. “Everybody’s emotions are different. Some people are going to be devastated by this. Some people will take it a little bit easier. It’s never easy. Now it’s a tunnel, but there is light at the other end of that tunnel. It’s going to be OK.”
The Gardners say they will be OK, too. Their home lost in the Waldo Canyon fire is nearly rebuilt. They’d hoped to move in next month, but have asked their builder to try to speed things up.
“We know people who divorced over the Waldo Canyon fire,” John says. “The stress. People couldn’t take it. I think it’s made us stronger. You got to lean on each other and help each other.”