Monday, July 2, 2012
Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
It has been unbelievably crazy here as our state continues to burn. Every day looks like the apocalypse. The smoke and falling ash are awful and ever-present, and they remind me of the underground coal fire fog in Silent Hill. Everything has a spooky red haze about it, including the moon. We were barely here in Manitou a week when our evacuation was announced.
I had lived in Manitou previously, down the street from one of the old entrances to Cave Of The Winds, a location I now believe to be one of the entrances to the Underworld the Ute Indians had spoken of. The home I lived in was built up against the side of a mountain, and from my utility room one could actually place their hands upon the rock wall. A psychic, who had never been to my house before, informed me that a natual spirit portal existed there. It explained some things, as once during a dinner party some of my guests witnessed a man in my foyer who no one recognized. Another friend was extremely uncomfortable there, sensing he was being observed by someone he could not see. These reports did not bother me, as I didn't mind the company, and thought the spirits made a great burglar deterrent.
I had always hoped to move back to Manitou one day, as this beautiful, eclectic mountain town still held many charms and mysteries I never fully explored during my time there. In the fall of 2011, James and I attended a Barnes & Noble book signing for Stephanie Waters' "Haunted Manitou Springs". A number of synchronicities immediately presented themselves, encouraging us that we were meant to be there and form a friendship with the author. It was such a delightful event, and after reading the book my decision to return to Manitou was cemented.
I sat with Stephanie's stimulating book, recalling several of the places she'd written about, learning new legends and bookmarking some of the locations The SpiritChasers would have to investigate. We had an upcoming premier at The Lon Chaney Theater for Spiritchasers V and there was so much to look forward to. I sent my wishes out into the bright autumn afternoons and got back to things like business cards and party invites. By the Spring of 2012, I had filmed two episodes of BIO's "My Ghost Story" and received a sale date for our house. James and I had been to Manitou every weekend by that point, collecting the mineral water from eight of its natural springs for my special homemade lemonade. We began looking for a place to live there, and nearly settled on one of the properties featured in "Haunted Manitou Springs". We met the landlord of the Barker House, a pleasant, friendly woman who had some chilling stories of her own to share regarding the building. We were still awaiting approval on another property which was built in the 1800's and featured the same artistry displayed at another paranormally active location, Miramont Castle.
I thought that living in a haunted building could prove somewhat distracting, but I knew that regardless we would be guided toward the best possible place for us. The next day, we were informed of our approval for the first place we looked at, the one we'd fell in love with but didn't think we'd qualify for. We were ecstatic, and Julee came up from Denver on a sunny weekened in June to help us move. After three hellish days moving in the unbearable heat, the excitement wore off and I quickly forgot I was an official "Manitoid" again. My only concern at that point was unpacking and sorting, inbetween unending trips back to the old house to clean and move more items to a storage facility in a searing hot car with an air conditioner whose motor had given out a few months prior. I had no time to create new material for this blog, or to post new updates on our Facebook page. The last article I had written, concerning Cheesman Park, dated back to June 8th, but it was move, unpack, sort, then fall fast asleep with a cool wind blowing down the mountain through my bedroom window.
This was our routine for the first week, then a fire broke out and roared out of control. It started with an arson in Teller, grew to 20 suspicious fires, then the one in Waldo Canyon exploded, threatening to trickle down Williams Canyon toward us. Cave Of The Winds lies in Williams Canyon, and the pictures they began to post were terrifying. The town of Manitou doesn't clear their forests, and everything was in tinderbox condition as it was, having been so hot and dry. Needless to say, we were in immediate danger. I took photos from our front deck, the giant wildfire plume continuing to grow and shift. A friend living by Garden Of The Gods had already been evacuated and the park was closed off.
We had been up late that Saturday night watching the spooky red glow over the mountains. It looked just like a scene from War Of The Worlds. Everyone was outside watching and listening to the news on the radio. I registered my phone with the county and reverse-911 for emergency notifications. We were on pre-evac, but thankfully the wind began blowing the fire away from us. We went to bed hoping it didn't shift. Then, at one in the morning they enforced a mandatory evac, but we were fast asleep. We woke up around 10a.m., stepped out onto the front porch, saw the same giant plume we did the day before, but this time it was much closer and looked more violent. It was quiet that morning as usual, but eerily still. It was then I noticed that all our neighbors' cars were gone. A police cruiser drove past, but we have a big tree out front and he didn't see us. Just then a helicopter roared overhead with one of those giant water bins suspended from it. I ran back inside and noticed I had several texts from Julee, telling us to get the hell out!
We had only met a couple neighbors, and one was on oxygen so they left when the smoke got bad. No one knew we had moved there, so no one came to inform us. I had my phone on all night but hadn't received any calls. Our TVs and cable hadn't been set up, so there was no way to know what was going on. From our private alcove and a building in front of us, you can't see the street, so we didn't see any of the mass exodus happening right in front of us, the largest evacuation in Colorado history up to that point. All roads leading into Manitou were blocked off. The police cruiser kept circling around, so we only had time to pack up a few clothes & our pets, and we left.
There were roadblocks everywhere, and everything smelled like a giant campfire. We went back to the empty house in our old neighborhood, not knowing when and if we could ever return. I accessed 9 News from my phone, and they showed the huge plume of smoke, saying it could throw embers a mile away and start new fires. I really thought that was it. James had to be at school the next day as well as an interview. We had nothing but a couple shirts and shorts inbetween us and there wasn't even a chair to sit on, with no idea when the house would be sold and closed off to us. We ordered a pizza and sat on the floor, watching a movie on my portable DVD player. After a nap, I woke up to a text tone from a friend informing us that Manitou's evac had been lifted and we could return after 8pm.
As we drove back, the view of the mountains burning was alarming. The smoke was everywhere, an eerie fog descending over everything. It was like driving through a battlefield. We returned to Manitou, but everyone was still gone. I went back to work unpacking boxes, grateful to be home, praying for the many people who had lost thiers. I could taste the fire in the back of my throat and feel its sting in my eyes. It was surreal, standing on the back deck at night under a blood-red moon, watching the wildfire smoke drifting in and out of the trees like ghosts.
The next day, new, huge fires had broken out here and in Boulder, and the Waldo fire was still only 5% contained. It now threatened the Air Force Academy, so the military, who have had the resources to stop this fire all along, began deploying planes. It really looked more like a volcano had gone off than a wildfire, and if the wind shifted again I knew we'd be back to square one. I didn't think I could handle another evac, and this alarming chain of events was made all the more unsettling by a series of comments I began to notice on Facebook. The following is a comment I posted to my own page in response to them:
"I've noticed a disturbing amount of comments regarding the fires in relation to the natural order of things. Yes, fires are a natural and necessary occurence. Tsunamis happen, as do tornados, floods and drought. A lot of these comments, however, have been posted by those who have never lost their home and all their earthly possessions to an act of nature. These people have never even experienced the fear and displacement of evacuation, not knowing if your house will still be there when you return, and if it's not, having to start from zero with no place for your family and animals to go. These comments are startling in their ignorance, similar to those left by trolls on YouTube. They are heartless, embarrassing and unnecessary. One woman wrote about the necessity of post-fire seedpods. Fine. But I hope she remembers that she herself isn't exempt from natural selection. If an organism grows too large and consumes too many resources, nature will take care of this imbalance, whether it involves a pandemic or something else. I'd like to hear what she has to say about seed pods when she's running for her life."
I was angry, on edge, exhausted from moving all of our worldly possessions about and fearful of losing them. We had just gotten here, and were simply looking forward to hiking up the mountain behind us, watching as deer foraged and listening for bats in the evening. Instead, we have been in a state of emergency for over a week and our living room is still full of boxes. We go to bed every night with the ever-present smell of a giant campfire blowing through our windows, looking to see where the plumes of smoke have moved to, ready to leave at a moments notice if necessary, knowing there is no time and no way to save everything we just moved should the fire return. And it's not even the 'fourth! As much as I love and miss fireworks, I cringe at the thought of errant sparks and unattended flames. Everything is burning, and my dream of moving to the rocky stronghold of a safe mountain town is burning with it.
Monday, July 2nd, 2012
As of this writing, the Waldo Canyon Wildfire is now 45% contained. We can still smell it, but are no longer in immediate danger and all of the Manitou attractions closed off by the fire are back open. My new office is almost complete, which means we can get back to spiritchasing soon and post new blogs. I do apologize for our absence here, just when things were getting exciting, we disappear, last seen in Manitou. I didn't think our leave would take so long, that my PC would sit for as long as it did in a cardboard box while we moved, while fires raged and our future here was uncertain. My PC is still sitting in its box, and I have had to type this all out on my iPhone. I'll have everything set up this week, and I'm looking forward to my next blog concerning the haunted park we used to live down the street from. Not Cheesman, not a former graveyard, but one in which a 747 crashed, leaving the site a highly charged and paranormally active area. Make sure to stay tuned as The SpiritChasers lock into the supernatural in our new neighborhood and begin to generate new magic here. We sure picked a great time to move into the mountains!
- Christopher Allen Brewer, July 2012