Beauty in the ashes: A story of the Waldo Canyon Fire

Published 11:00 pm Friday, August 24, 2012

Dave and Melody Mead lost their home and all of their material possessions in the Waldo Canyon Fire. Melody Mead is the daughter of Ellis and Juanita Bush of Troy. Dave Mead is director of the military division of The Navigators in Colorado Springs.

Melody Mead quietly celebrated her birthday with her husband, Dave, in a small café in Colorado Springs on June 26.

Although there was reason to celebrate, a dark cloud was looming. The Meads knew there was a possibility that their lives could soon change dramatically.

On Saturday morning, June 23, residents of several Colorado Springs communities had reported smoke in the hills just north of U.S. Route 24.

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As Melody stood on the deck of their Mountain Shadows home around noon that day, she saw a plume of smoke over the ridge.

By afternoon the fire had intensified and officials had confirmed the name to be the Waldo Canyon Fire.

By evening, the residents of the Mountain Shadows area had been asked to evacuate.

“I left that night and took some things with me to a friend’s house across the highway,” Mead said. “Dave and our daughter, Bethany, joined me Sunday night at the house of friends who were away on vacation. Bethany had been with us since November, when her husband, Kevin Werner, was deployed to Afghanistan.”

Melody said she and her family were concerned for all of those who were in the fire’s path and those who were desperately trying to bring it under control.

But they weren’t overly concerned about their own home or safety. There didn’t seem a reason to be.

“On Tuesday, Dave took me to lunch to celebrate,” Melody said. “When we came out of the restaurant, what we saw on the Front Ridge brought us to tears. The whole range was ablaze. Flames were quickly crawling down the mountain.

“We watched and cried for an hour. As we began to drive to where we were staying, the sky darkened and filled with heavy smoke and ash.

“Ashes covered the sun. It was surreal. It felt like the end of the world.”

The Meads stood and watched as the fire roared down the mountain. They knew that unless the winds pushed the fire to the north, their lives were about to change, forever.

Then the worst thing that could happen for the Meads and their neighbors in Mountain Shadows happened.

Due to strong winds following a dry thunderstorm west of the blaze, the fire jumped the containment line.

Winds gusting up to 65 miles per hour whipped the fire down the slope into the west side of Colorado Springs, into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

“We were keeping up with the fire via television and we knew that it was moving toward our neighborhood and other neighborhoods on the west side,” Dave said. “It was the worst possible scenario. We didn’t know about our home … but, really, we did know.”

The Meads realized that, barring a miracle, their home would be destroyed.

And, those sad words, “it might have been,” kept playing in their heads.

“We had gone back to the house on Monday morning,” Melody said. “At that time, we didn’t think the fire would come toward us. We checked everything in the house. I even watered the flowers.

“And, I asked Dave if there were things that he wanted to put in the car to take with us. He said no. He thought we had what we needed. We thought we would be back home in a day or two.”

The Meads had left behind things of great sentimental value believing they would go home again.

“We had no idea of what was to be,” Dave said.

The Meads were horrified at what they saw unfolding on the television screen but it was a still photograph that actually broke their hearts.

“Our son, Matt, was in North Hollywood and he was following the fire on the Internet,” Dave said. “He was able to zoom in on the aerial images and saw what he thought to be our street. It was devastated.”

A couple of days later, any hope the Meads might have had was lost.

An aerial photograph in the Denver Post left no doubt.

“We could pick out our home. It was gone,” Dave said. “We had to accept that and begin to move forward.”

More than a week after the Meads left their home in the belief they would soon return and life would go on as it had been, they returned to ashes and smoldering rubble.

“That’s when we felt the full impact of what had happened,” Melody said. “Not just us but so many of our friends and neighbors. A few Mountain Shadows homes had escaped but only a few.

“Almost a whole neighborhood, gone.”

The Meads began picking up the pieces, the very few pieces, of their lives.

“When you stand in the ashes that were your home … it’s a feeling that I can’t describe,” Melody said.

But, among the toxic ashes, she found hope and beauty.

The wind had blown the ashes so as to expose a portion of a porcelain Lenox swan figurine that had been “in the family” for much of the Meads’ 27-year marriage.

“The swan was broken in several pieces but it was embedded in the ashes,” Melody said.

“I carefully picked it up and cupped it in my hands. We had found beauty in the ashes.“There is beauty everywhere in God’s world if we just look for it.”

The Meads almost immediately began the process of rebuilding, knowing that it would be a complex one.

First, they had to sift through the debris in order to recover anything of value.

The next step was to contract for the removal of the debris.

“There was no doubt that we would build back,” Dave Mead said. “We had to find a builder who would be responsible with a contracted person for the demolition of the foundation.

Most of the foundations that remained were considered unstable due to the high heat of the fire – 1500 to 2000 degrees.”

Soil mitigation was necessary to prevent mudslides and erosion and stabilize the land and develop fire safe planting.

“We felt like we had a new job to be honest,” Dave said. “Everyone was so kind and helpful. We began to develop bonds with our neighbors as we communicated on the next steps. We were thankful for that connection at a deeper level with our neighbors.”

On Thursday, August 23, the Meads’ plans for their new home were finalized. Although they lost many treasures of the heart to the fire – photographs, special gifts, family mementos – they know that God has a plan for their lives there in Colorado Springs and that He will show them the way.

“Even though we lost much, we were blessed,” said Dave, who is director of the military division of The Navigators, a worldwide Christian para-church organization headquartered in Colorado Springs. “

The Navigator headquarters was not damaged nor was the Glen Eyrie Castle, which is a retreat site owned by The Navigators.

The Meads are moving forward with the assurance that they are where God wants them to be and that they doing his will.

“I can honestly say that I would rather have all my family together safe and walking with God than a house full of things, even though much of it was beautiful and special,” Melody said.