Ring of Fire

Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Twenty-Two Months Since the Four Mile Canyon Fire

“I fell into a burning ring of fire.
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher.
And it burned, burned, burned, the ring of fire.
The ring of fire.”

-Johnny Cash

Hello Dear Friends,

I know Johnny Cash was writing a song about Hell when he wrote those words, and Hell is not a word often associated with Colorado.  But these past two weeks have been hellish, to say the least. It feels like the whole state is burning, and that we are  surrounded by a ring of fire and destruction.

The names of these terrible fires ring in my head – the Lower North Fork Fire, the High Park Fire, the Crystal Fire, the Waldo Canyon Fire. Last weekend I decided I’d had enough of fire and smoke, and rented a small cabin on a stream, near the town of Leadville. Believe it or not, I’d been there only one day when the Treasure Fire broke out and a column of smoke appeared on the ridge above the cabin.  I threw everything in the car and went back to Boulder. I thought, “Sheesh! I just should have gone to see my friends Rusty and Kaye in Estes Park.” And the next day, 23 homes burned to the ground in Estes Park. My friends’ home was not among them, thank God.

And then two days later, I was up with the guys working at the new house, and we watched lighting strike just a few miles away. We all gaped in horror as a column of smoke and flame appeared across the ridge. I turned to the guys and said, “I gotta tell ya, this does NOT make me happy.”

Flagstaff Fire as Seen From the New House





Close Up of the Flagstaff Fire as Seen From My Deck

Watching the fire blow up and start to eat the mountainside made me feel sick. And it also made me realize that Nellie was at home alone down in town. I threw my stuff in the car and drove down the mountain, fighting the urge to panic. “I’m okay,” I told myself. “The fire is miles from the house.” And then I remembered what I thought when I first heard about the Four Mile Canyon Fire – “Oh, that’s miles from my house. Nothing to worry about.”

On the way home, I called my kind and wonderful friend Linda, and said, “Hi there. I need a babysitter. Want to come over for dinner?” She cheerfully agreed to pick up some Chinese food and come over, and shortly after I got home, she arrived, food in tow, and Nellie was wildly happy to see her. When I let her in, acrid smoke poured in the front door, and I slammed it behind her. The wind had changed. The fire was still miles away, but now blowing in our direction. Deep breath, do not panic.

Living through disaster has taught me to ask for help when I need it, and to never pretend that I’m okay when I’m not. And, of course, to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” a phrase I have clung to for the past two years.

Linda and I cranked up the air conditioning, checked the Office of Emergency Management website about every two minutes, and watched the fire through the sliding glass doors as we ate. We talked about how tired we were of fire, of talking about fire, and seeing fire, and smelling smoke for weeks on end.  How sick we feel for the people who have lost homes in just these past few weeks. And then I looked at Linda and said, “STUPID fire! Tricksy fire! We hates fire, we do, Hobbit!” and she cracked up. Then Linda said, “Why aren’t there a hundred helicopters up there fighting this fire? Why aren’t there a MILLION!? Or a BILLION! Stupid budgets.” Then we sighed, and ate our basil eggplant chicken, and gave thanks to the Goddess of Chlorofluorocarbons for our ozone-destroying but lung-saving air conditioning.

Linda went home, and the next day I went back up to the house, and another storm blew through, but this time, it brought rain.  Not just a sprinkle, but forty-five minutes of pouring, gully-washing, cold, sopping RAIN.  Again, everyone stopped work to look across the ridge, but this time it was to watch the rain put out most of the fire.  We stood out in the pouring rain – the trim carpenters, the cabinet maker, the electricians, the mason working on the fireplace, the contractor, the granite installers, and me.  We cheered the rain, we hooted and hollered and clapped and said, “Go rain! Put out that fire!” It was a glorious, wet, thunderous celebration.  And then the clouds cleared, and everyone went back to work.

Today there were more thunderstorms, more lightning strikes, and blessedly, more rain. We had our first inspection on the house, and that means that with a few corrections and a re-inspection, I will actually be able to go home, for real, in less than two weeks. The reality of it hasn’t hit me yet, as I’m still pretty distracted by this Ring of Fire that is currently Colorado. Every day I think of the new sorrows facing people – thousands of them at the time of this writing – who have just lost their homes and all their precious treasures. And I wonder how I can help.  I hope I can share with them what I have felt, and learned, and experienced, over these past two years.  I hope they can find this blog, and that it will bring them just a moment of comfort, a voice of reassurance in these darkest of hours.

So I am okay. I refuse to let fear run my life.  I stare at the pillar of smoke out the window and say, out loud, “You and I know each other all too well, but you are not the boss of me.” I can’t predict or control the wind, the flames, or the future, but whatever happens, I will take it as it comes.  I will cry, and fuss, and keep breathing. I will ask for help and keep trying to help others. For as my father was so fond of saying, quoting Abraham Lincoln, “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” If I can ease the heartache of others, even just a little, then it makes it all worthwhile.

Right now Nellie is curled up beside me, the “Fire Boxes,” containing my birth certificate, my backup hard drive, my little bit of new jewelry –  are loaded into the car, in case we have to evacuate. And you know, I’m probably one of the few people on the planet who actually has a paper receipt, filed in chronological order,  for every single thing she now owns. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Tonight I think I’ll order some sushi delivered, because one of the miracles of living in town is that someone will actually  cook food and bring it to your door. We mountain folk are not used to such luxuries.  So I’ll have some sushi sent over, and I’ll mix the hot wasabi with the salty soy sauce. And I’ll  dip the sweet fish and rice into it, and it will rush into my mouth and burn, burn, burn, and at the same time, be absolutely delicious.  Kind of like life.

Sending you lots of love, and wishes for sweet dreams,


Nellie keeps calm and carries on… even in the midst of construction.

The New Living Room

Looking forward to our final inspection tomorrow! Fingers crossed…


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16 Responses to Ring of Fire

  1. I have been thinking of you with news of every blaze, every evacuation notice, every home that was lost. Your new house looks wonderful, and I hope that others will rebuild too.

  2. Marian Thier says:

    I’ve think of you so often during these terrible, terrible fires, sure that each report sends feared memories through you. I too hope that the sharing of your journey will be a source of comfort and healing for others. ANDI, your home looks so calm, inviting and solid. May it bring you boundless joy.

  3. Hollis says:

    Nice post, thanks for sharing. Your new home looks great. I’m out of the country and have been keeping tabs on the fires from afar–it does feel as though all of Colorado is on fire and my heart aches for those who’ve lost their homes and belongings. Congrats on the inspection and good to know your homecoming is within reach! Breathe, and think just how far you’ve come!

  4. Jodi says:

    I’ve been thinking of you so much in the last few weeks, wondering if your new home was at risk, how you were coping emotionally with all the new fires.

    I am thrilled to pieces that you will be in that gorgeous new home in less than two weeks! The living room is so beautiful, filled with light….

    Best of all possible things,

  5. amy jo says:


    i’ve been thinking about you since i read of the colorado fires. one of the things i didn’t replace, after the flood destroyed my home, was my television so i am usually late in getting news. but you have been on my mind. i pray for your sanity, safety and sense of humor.

    every time we get a hard rain here in nashville and people start to talk about the rising river i get that “i do not like this…” feeling. you are not alone. those of us who have survived a natural disaster have a lot to give those just experiencing their own.

    grace and peace,
    amy jo

  6. kaye says:

    it has been so good to have rain the last few days – many of us have a new mantra.. come on rain, no lightening ! so excited to see things progressing on the inspections… move in is only a week away. Yahoo !!!!

  7. Carol Grever says:

    Andi, you inspire us with your courage. I’ve followed your blog but didn’t have personal experience with fires till this week. We had to pack our own cars this week, living just a mile from the Flagstaff Fire. Our pre-evacuation order was a valuable exercise. I realized what’s really important to me. In a rush, I asked, “What is irreplaceable?” I discovered that most of our possessions can be replaced, but what I value most deeply is aesthetic. I stripped the walls of art and lugged paintings and sculptures to the car, adding a few photos and family keepsakes, waiting to evacuate. With those beautiful objects missing, the house seemed barren and cold. I didn’t feel at home for the two days we slept here without the comfort of those familiar “friends.” I put each piece back in its place yesterday, breathing thanks for the extraordinary joy that art offers in every ordinary day. It was a good lesson.
    Carol Grever

  8. “If I can ease the heartache of others, even just a little, then it makes it all worthwhile.” While driving to meet a friend for tea this past Wednesday (always a bit surreal to go about daily life when smoke is rising and firefighters are working their butts off nearby), I heard a snippet of your intereview on Colorado Public Radio’s Colorado Matters that I hadn’t heard before. You were offering wise advice to people who lose a home to natural disaster. You are helping ease the heartache of others, including with this blog!

    Did you catch this? It’s about a local psychologist who has also lost two homes to fire: http://www.denverpost.com/lifestyles/ci_20950562/boulder-psychologist-who-lost-homes-fire-shares-tools?source=pkg.

  9. Shelly says:

    I love that fire is not the boss of you! I read this last night, supposedly an old Zen saying: “My house burned to the ground; now I can see the sky.” I know you will be seeing a lot of the sky from your gorgeous new home, very soon.

  10. Mary O'Conor Rosenfeld says:

    Dear Andi, SSOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO glad that you and Nellie are ok. Thanks for the update. Very relieved that your new house is ok. Blessings and hugs, Mary

  11. Gail Storey says:

    Like all of your friends, I too have been thinking of you during all these recent fires. This post and your previous ones are sure to bring comfort and hope to those going through the loss of their homes now. And the photos of your rebuilt home are fabulous!

  12. Jennifer says:

    What a beautiful post.
    I first learned of you and your blog from Kristen Moller when she lost her home to the fire a couple of months ago. I know you were a lifeline to her – and no doubt so many others in that moment and since then.
    Your sharing is a huge gift – you and Abe sure have it right.
    Many blessings to you and your beautiful new home!

  13. Your new home looks very welcoming! And good for you, with the motto of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Even as more people are going through their own version of hell right now, it’s wonderful to know that your words are something that may help bolster them through the feelings of loss and heartbreak. Would that it weren’t so, but because it is, it’s nice that there are those who, like you, are willing to reach out and share from your life experiences. Here’s to more rain!

  14. Beth Partin says:

    I took one look at the picture of your new living room and said, “Wow!” It’s beautiful. And you’ll be there in a couple of weeks. There is a lot of sorrow in Colorado lately, but the joy of rebuilding your home is just as important.

  15. Judy Wathen says:

    When I read about the wildfires in Colorado, I immediately searched for a map fearful that your new home might be threatened. I felt some relief to see that while close to at least one wildfire, your home seemed to be safe. Then it struck me how much courage it really took for you to rebuild knowing fire could so easily strike again. I am not sure I could do it. I felt anxious to hear from you and in came your blog with it usual wisdom and “realness.” It is good to know you, Nellie and your almost finished house are okay. Please keep us up to date as frequently as you can during this fire season.

  16. Always Your Fan says:

    Beautiful post.

    I feel like you will appreciate the fact that “Ring of Fire” was indeed written by June Carter Cash (with Merle Kilgore), and as I understand it anyway, was not about Hell, but rather about things on Earth. (The original title was “Love’s Ring of Fire”–which provides a hint.)

    Best to you & Nellie as this refreshing cold front comes through Colorado (at last)~

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