Mountain Shadows: A Neighborhood Ravaged By Fire

The Mountain Shadows subdivision of Colorado Springs was ravaged by the Waldo Canyon Fire on June 26, 2012. The area is an urban interface with the wilderness of Colorado coming right up to some doorsteps. It is an area the local fire department has known was susceptible to a major wildfire for many years. These photos were shot on assignment for photo agencies in London and Hamburg. The world is interested in this story.

A couple of friends lost homes here. Having covered other fires, knowing you are in a neighborhood you have visited, and being able to point out where friends used to reside, makes it a completely different experience. When in the neighborhood to meet one of my friends a few days before this photo shoot, damage seemed so random. One house that was still standing, with the owners doing cleanup work, lost houses on either side, and across the street. A few trees burned in his back yard, but the house was unscathed. In these photos, very often you will see a house destroyed with a neighboring house untouched, the lawn and trees still green and healthy.

Mountain Shadows: Brogans Bluff Drive
Brogans Bluff Drive

Wandering through the destruction, you begin to notice details. Like gas flaps on burnt out cars being open, no cap in sight. One quickly realizes it is because the heat of the conflagration blew the cap off, launching it to who knows where. Photos like these are more frequently from war zones, not from residential neighborhoods in suburban America. American flags dot the neighborhood, particularly poignant when it is clear there is nothing left at the property over which they fly.

Mountain Shadows: Brogans Bluff Drive
Brogans Bluff Drive

You see what is left of a brick wall, now just exploded bricks strewn across a lawn.

Mountain Shadows: Wilson Road
Wilson Road

Signs of appreciation are all over the neighborhood.

Mountain Shadows: Thank You Firefighters, Police & Military
Thank You Firefighters, Police & Military

Relief efforts have been throughout the area, leaving notices of how to make contact for disaster assistance.

Mountain Shadows: Red Cross Disaster Relief
Red Cross Disaster Relief

At times, it is difficult to tell you are looking at what used to be homes.  On a curved street, eight driveways that lead to … nothing … ashes.

Mountain Shadows: Harbor Pines Point
Harbor Pines Point

The end of the photo shoot day was spent on Majestic Drive. There was no randomness here. Unlike other streets, this one was a horrible sight of complete devastation. House after house after house … was … just … ash.

Mountain Shadows: Majestic Drive
Majestic Drive

Hardly even a pile of ash. This area was just flattened. Everything equally destroyed. More than 100 homes, block after block, just … ash.

Mountain Shadows: Mirror Lake Court
Mirror Lake Court

Very little is identifiable. Maybe a stove here, what is left of a gas meter there.

Mountain Shadows: Mirror Lake Court
Mirror Lake Court

A car in what is left of a garage, crushed by a steel support beam.

Mountain Shadows: Majestic Drive
Majestic Drive

Every now and then, something recognizable … a file cabinet.

Mountain Shadows: Mirror Lake Court
Mirror Lake Court

At one house, cleanup already underway, they left a sewing machine …

Mountain Shadows: Mirror Lake Court
Mirror Lake Court

… and scorched silverware by the driveway.

Mountain Shadows: Mirror Lake Court
Mirror Lake Court

Amid the rubble, another “Thank You to ALL the Fire Fighters and Police”.

Mountain Shadows: Thank You Fire Fighters & Police
Thank You Fire Fighters & Police

Cars with melted windshields.

Mountain Shadows: Hot Springs Court
Hot Springs Court

The cleanup and rebuilding efforts have begun. There are signs of it everywhere.

Mountain Shadows: Majestic Drive
Majestic Drive

A few residents are sifting through the ashes looking for anything salvageable. One woman exclaimed she had found a weight from her grandmother’s cuckoo clock, and while she could not find the other, she clearly treasured having found the one in her hand.

A silver-haired resident spoke of an advisory during the evacuation to take important papers. “F*ck that!” she said, explaining that a ceramic hand print of her granddaughter’s from kindergarten took precedence in the limited space of her car. Her husband for more than 50 years said it was the first time he had ever heard her use that word.

The day ended with a poignant conversation with a resident amid the devastation off of Majestic. Her home was one in an island of four houses that somehow survived the firestorm. While the garage of her house had caught fire, she was proud of the heroic efforts firefighters obviously made to save the structure.

Mountain Shadows: God Bless Our FireFighters
God Bless Our FireFighters

She had smoke damage inside the house, but looking across the street at so many other homes completely destroyed, she spoke of concerns for their owners. She spoke of a young family at one of the other three remaining homes, where the husband has recently returned from duty in Afghanistan, and they had moved in just ten days before the fire broke out. She spoke of concern for their children, and her fear of what they all might be breathing in the blowing ash. When asked if she knew of plans for rebuilding the neighborhood, she said several of her neighbors have expressed such desires at their homeowners association meetings. Then her voice wavered as she spoke of a young couple who have decided to leave Colorado.

Mountain Shadows: Flying W Ranch Road
Flying W Ranch Road

Signs of gratitude for the heroic efforts of first responders and the volunteers who supported them during the firefight are everywhere. On one street at a home scorched by the fire, a resident spoke of what must have been a decision by firefighters that the firestorm was not going to pass that line. A blocks long wood privacy fence was burned, yet only a couple of homes were damaged, and only one was lost. Residents have taken parts of that scorched fence and hand-painted their feelings of appreciation.

Mountain Shadows: We Will Rebuild!
We Will Rebuild!

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The aerial before and after photos published by The Denver Post are dramatic. But they are nothing like walking the neighborhoods and seeing it … in your face.

All of the houses you see in this satellite map (or rather, what is left of them) of Majestic Drive (on the right) between Mirror Lake Court (top) and Hot Springs Court (bottom) are shown in the photo gallery above. They are all gone.

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Personal Note: On the day of this photo shoot, officers with the Colorado Springs Police Department were everywhere, watching over the neighborhoods. If you are planning to enter the area, you may count on being approached (repeatedly) and questioned, by CSPD, and any resident who does not recognize you. I met several officers the day I captured these images, always asking permission before shooting, even though I was wearing my media credential. It’s a professional courtesy. Every officer I met was professional, courteous and friendly, and extremely determined to prevent any kind of mischief. If you do not belong in the area, do not go. Cleanup, recovery and construction crews do not need you in their way. I compliment CSPD, not just for their heroic efforts to protect people and property during the firestorm, but in watching over things in the aftermath too. To each of the officers I met, I thank you all for your courtesy.

Production Notes: All photos in this gallery were taken from the street or sidewalk, never from private property. Out of respect for the privacy of affected homeowners, a conscious effort was made not to photograph addresses, although most indications of address have been obliterated. Photos were captured with a Nikon D300 using a Nikkor 24x120mm zoom lens. White balance was set to daylight and ISO was set at 200. For aperture settings, focal length and shutter speeds, see the camera data below each of the photos in the gallery. All photos were captured in RAW format. Minimal editing was performed in Adobe Camera RAW Converter and Photoshop CS5.5. Addresses were removed from four of the photos during the editing process using the healing brush in Photoshop to protect the privacy of the homeowners.

Photos and Text are © 2012 Lee Roth / Roth Stock Digital Media – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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