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Winning against wildfires

"Winning against wildfires" Continued...

Issue: "De-coding Morsi," July 28, 2012

In the master bedroom, they discovered Jessica's dad sleeping. Beau McCoy, a contractor at Schriever Air Force Base, had worked the graveyard shift and was supposed to sleep with his cell phone by his bed, but forgot. With the roads closed and no phone access, there would have been no way to let Beau know it was time to evacuate if mother and daughter had not returned home. Jessica's third dream may have saved her dad's life.

The charred mountainside above Mountain Shadows with burned homes and homes that were spared.
Associated Press/Photo by Jerilee Bennett/Colorado Springs Gazette/MCT
The charred mountainside above Mountain Shadows with burned homes and homes that were spared.
Cars scorched by the blaze in Mountain Shadows.
Photo by Sarah Padbury for WORLD
Cars scorched by the blaze in Mountain Shadows.
Beau and Jonni McCoy survey the damage to their home.
Photo courtesy of the McCoy family
Beau and Jonni McCoy survey the damage to their home.
The view down the street from the McCoy home.
Photo courtesy of the McCoy family
The view down the street from the McCoy home.
Pottery found at the McCoy home.
Photo courtesy of the McCoy family
Pottery found at the McCoy home.
The McCoys vow to return to Mountain Shadows.
Photo by Jerilee Bennett/Colorado Springs Gazette/MCT/Newscom
The McCoys vow to return to Mountain Shadows.
A Mountain Shadows family shows appreciation to the firefighters.
Photo by Sarah Padbury for WORLD
A Mountain Shadows family shows appreciation to the firefighters.
Mountain Shadows residents offer thanks to the firefighters.
Photo by Sarah Padbury for WORLD
Mountain Shadows residents offer thanks to the firefighters.
Mountain Springs Church members pray for evacuees.
Photo by Sarah Padbury for WORLD
Mountain Springs Church members pray for evacuees.
Volunteer Esther Fleece carries her friend's child through rows of relief supplies at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Photo by Susannah Kay/Colorado Springs Gazette/MCT/Getty Images
Volunteer Esther Fleece carries her friend's child through rows of relief supplies at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Donated water, sleeping bags, and pillows for the 300 Summit students.
Photo by Sarah Padbury for WORLD
Donated water, sleeping bags, and pillows for the 300 Summit students.
Mountain Springs Church members collected toys for children whose homes were destroyed.
Photo courtesy of Mountain Springs Church
Mountain Springs Church members collected toys for children whose homes were destroyed.

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Colorado Springs has endured disparagement as a red city inside a blue state. Fifteen years ago the state became one of the first to pass a citizens initiative blocking discrimination laws based on gay rights. Amendment 2 was struck down by the Supreme Court in a landmark case, Romer v. Evans, and liberal social activists had a heyday portraying the city, home to Focus on the Family, as mean and backward. But as disaster struck and a large portion of the city had to be rescued, Colorado Springs, with its population of over 416,000, mobilized. From pastors and ministry leaders to the Starbucks baristas and hotel front desk clerks, everyone I talked to either took a family into their home or knew someone who did. Some people took in several families at a time, and some took in strangers.

"There's a sense out there that our city is broken up by liberal and conservative [people]. That just isn't true," said Steve Holt, pastor of Mountain Springs Church. "I've lived here 17 years and I've never been in a more caring community."

When headquarters for The Navigators came under evacuation orders, Focus on the Family provided space for 50 Navigators employees. Focus partnered with the liberal-leaning Colorado Springs Independent to put on a benefit concert for the fire's victims and firefighters-a July 4th event that brought in over $500,000. The Mission Training International campus evacuated dozens of trainees to Vista Grande Baptist Church. Village Seven Presbyterian Church and several other churches pitched in to provide supplies. New Life Church received several truckloads of nonperishable food from Gleaning America's Fields, a relief organization out of Virginia. Hundreds of high-school students helped unload supplies into the church lobby where they were sorted and given away. Church pantries and food banks across the city threw open their doors and pooled resources.

By the time El Paso County Department of Human Services asked Mountain Springs Church to organize a toy drive for children who came in with dislocated families seeking assistance, the church already was hosting 300 evacuated students from the Summit Ministries campus. "Frankly, I wasn't sure if we should ask our congregation to do more," confessed Holt, "but in the end they gave over and above. Whatever we asked for, they gave twice as much."

Five days after the evacuation, Mountain Shadow residents were allowed to visit their property for the first time. The McCoy family stared at the flattened ruins that used to be their 4,400-square foot home. Picking through the rubble, Jonni found a small pot Jessica made as a child. They also realized how many irreplaceable things they forgot to save, including an 1865 Singer sewing machine, antique quilts, and the Christmas tree ornament set.

Friends from church housed the McCoy family until they rented a house. Thirty of the 33 homes on their street burned. All but two families have pledged to return and rebuild the block.

"Somewhere in the Bible it says God sends rain to the just and the unjust," Beau McCoy reflected. "So we have to take our knocks with the unbelievers. Throughout our life, God has been good to us. ... It's enough to know my family is safe. I've been stripped naked: What does life mean? What's important? My family."

Jessica, however, said she still goes through "the seven stages of grief" several times a day, and though she's grateful God used her dreams, she is still confused about why God let her house burn down, yet saved others.

Several miles north, the Hammerstrom family returned to find their home spared from direct fire damage, but needing months of cleanup before it can be occupied again. The view behind their home is gone, burned up along with the Flying W Ranch.

"People smile and say to us, 'Isn't that wonderful?'" Doug said. "But I say, 'No. It's not good.' If your house burns to the ground, you can start over with insurance. But if it doesn't, insurance won't cover [all your losses]." But Doug is grateful for other provisions. A pastor from his church immediately took the family in, despite their daughter Sarah's special needs: a first floor bedroom and wide doorways for wheelchair access. The family recently moved into another donated home for a month. Where they will go after that, they don't know.

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