'This is Really Bad Today, But It's Going to Get Better'

Jul 1, 2017

Carla Albers and her family moved into their Mountain Shadows home in 1990.  They'd always loved the westside and figured it would be a starter home, but ended up loving the neighborhood and the area.  

"It just ended up being up one of those neighborhoods where a lot of younger couples moved in with a lot of kids," she recalls.  "It was just a really great place to raise a family."

Their house was among the nearly 350 homes lost in 2012's Waldo Canyon Fire.

When the fire first started, Albers says the family was vacationing in Nebraska.  Some friends collected a few important items from the house while they made their way back.  Once home, she says she diligently watched the press briefings and the family prepared a few bags, just in case the evacuation notice was expanded to include their home.  

"What if I had done this, what if I had done that, why didn't I run up and get this, why didn't I do that? Why didn't I think the fire was going to come over and I could have moved stuff out?"

It wasn't until Tuesday, when then-Mayor Steve Bach interrupted the press briefing with such a notice, that she knew they had to leave.

"When I realized what an emergency it was, you really, you're just on survival mode, you're not really thinking 'Oh, I should really go through and get this and this and this.'  It's like, 'we gotta get out of here because this is really serious.'"

Albers says, among other things, she was able to grab financial information that had been set aside, some medicine, a couple of changes of clothes and computers.  The cat, the dog. 

A blood pressure cuff off the credenza.

"It's just weird random stuff," she says.  "You're sitting there and you know you should get stuff, but your brain is not working very fast."

Albers and her son gathered what they could; her husband and daughter were out and unable to make it back to the house. 

It wasn't until she saw an aerial photograph from the Denver Post that she knew definitively that her home was gone. 

"I cried really hard," she says.  "At that point, we hadn't slept, and you think it's going to be bad, and then you find out that everything you're afraid of happens."

At first, Albers says the emotion wasn't so much about what they lost; it was more about the uncertainty of what was to come.

"At that point, we hadn't slept, and you think it's going to be bad, and then you find out that everything you're afraid of happens."

She says she dealt with a lot of "what if" questions.  "What if I had done this, what if I had done that, why didn't I run up and get this, why didn't I do that?  Why didn't I think the fire was going to come over and I could have moved stuff out?"

Eventually, the family sat down together to talk about what happened on the day the fire broke into Mountain Shadows, where each family member was at the time, and what they were going through. 

Carla Albers also started a blog to help keep people informed, because she says she simply didn't have the time to keep up with everyone's emails and phone calls.   

When she reread it, it struck her as a little melodramatic. "But you know what?  I think I was entitled to be, because it was a really hard time.  And I will cut myself a little bit of slack because it was really hard and stressful."  There were also parts that made her cry and laugh.

But one thing that struck her was remembering the help they received from so many different people.

"You don't think it's going to get better, and in a month or two, it probably won't be better, but in a year it's going to be better. And in two years it's going to be a lot better."

"You then turn around, obviously, and pay that forward, because you know what it's like," she says. 

When the Black Forest Fire occurred one year later, Albers says she was part of a group that went to the area to participate in "mentoring meetings," aimed at helping people with insurance, inventories, and other issues.

"For us initially, you just didn't know what to expect," Albers says.  "So we could say, 'hey, this is really bad today, but you know what? It's going to get better.  And you don't think it's going to get better, and in a month or two, it probably won't be better, but in a year it's going to be better.  And in two years it's going to be a lot better.'  And at five years, I can honestly say we're in a really good place."

Listen to the story from Carla Albers in the player above. 

This story comes from 91.5 KRCC's special series, "Five Years Later: Remembering the Waldo Canyon Fire." Find more stories from those affected by the fire here.