COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.-For the past 10 years, Doug and Jodi Hammerstrom could keep track of the time each evening by the activity at the Flying W Ranch, which butted up to their backyard. If they heard a cowbell, it was 7 p.m., as guests were beckoned to a family-style, chuckwagon dinner and show. The Hammerstroms would often pass the time sipping coffee on the patio and listening to the cowboys' fiddles and deep voices wafting over the hill.
But now they hear only eerie silence beyond their backyard. On Tuesday, June 26, the Flying W Ranch was completely destroyed by the Waldo Canyon wildfire, as the Hammerstroms' Colorado Springs neighborhood, Mountain Shadows, lost 346 homes to the blaze.
This isn't the first time the Hammerstroms have had figure out how to go on after living through a crisis. Their second child, Sarah, contracted a rare brain virus when she was born and now, at age 20, suffers from cerebral palsy, is wheelchair bound, deaf, and functions at a 3-year-old level.
"I had to deal with God's sovereignty when Sarah was born," Jodi told me. "I can accept it better now. The last 20 years have been a challenge, but also a blessing."
The day after the fire, while the Hammerstroms were still evacuated, Jodi received an email from a friend with an aerial photo she'd found online. It showed the charred remains of the Flying W Ranch and the street where the Hammerstroms lived, skirting the northeastern edge of the property. Some homes were burned to the ground, but what looked to be Doug and Jodi's house was still standing and even had green grass surrounding it. They were shocked and weren't sure if they could believe it.
It wasn't until the following Sunday that authorities allowed families back in to Mountain Shadows to view their homes. When the Hammerstroms arrived at their house, it was clear that after the fire consumed the ranch, it marched right up to the their property-and stopped at the fence.
"We compare ourselves to the 0.5 percent that are better off than we are rather than the 99.5 percent that are worse off," Doug said. "This disaster is an emotional jolt, but it's nothing compared to what's happened in Louisiana or Mexico or Syria. Would I rather have my arm cut off in Syria, or my home [damaged] in Mountain Shadows?"
Walking around the property that day, Jodi was surprised to find the daisies were still alive and an orchid had bloomed. She quickly filled the birdbath with water for the displaced deer that huddled close to the house. In the mailbox sat the previous Tuesday's heat-wrinkled mail. Ironically, the top letter was from their homeowners insurance company.
The Hammerstroms don't know if they will live there again. They have to consider what breathing issues might be brought on for Sarah, as well as the emotional setting of their new view: miles and miles of burned forest.
Either way, they will miss the yodeling each night at 8. But still, Doug concluded, "This tragedy is but a yawn."
Relief online: Technology has played a key role in assisting families affected by the Colorado wildfire | Sarah Padbury | July 19
Winning against wildfires: Colorado Springs faces hundreds of homes and millions of dollars lost to the record-breaking Waldo Canyon fire, but with a renewed spirit of togetherness | Sarah Padbury | WORLD July 28 issue (posted July 13)
Called to action: Church members rally to serve their community during the Colorado wildfires | Sarah Padbury| July 11
Concert haul: Benefit performance aids wildfire victims and firefighters in Colorado | Sarah Padbury | July 6
Burning blazes: Some Colorado Springs residents return to homes, but with Obama visit underway, wildfires continue | Mindy Belz | June 29