Afterburn: A Survivor of the 2010 Fourmile Fire Speaks

Karen Minniear and her family survived the 2010 Fourmile Fire in Boulder County. Their home did not. In this interview, she talks about the lessons she learned and gives insight into what the victims of this year's wildfires are going through now.
July 12 2012, 8:55 AM

The Waldo Canyon Fire is completely contained, but the rebuilding is just started. For the people who lost their homes, perhaps the most difficult part is only beginning. Last year, I wrote about survivors of Boulder County's Fourmile Fire, including Karen Minniear, who fled with her husband and two children hours before their home burned to the ground. Minniear spoke to me this week about the days and months after the 2010 fire, and the lessons she hopes Colorado's newest fire victims can learn.

"The first part was shock. The first three months after the fire is a blur. People wanted to help in so many ways, but they didn't know what to say. It was like a car crash where your lives are forever changed. Our lives were critically changed."

"Shortly after we lost the house, I went to a donation store. I called it the 'Free Store' because everything in there was free. You just had to check in with your address. It was overwhelming to me. I didn't know where to start. I saw an iron, and I thought to myself, 'Well, I don't have an iron.' So I picked it up. I walked farther inside and there was stuff to the ceilings. The whole time, I'm carrying this stupid iron. I ended up putting it down, and I backed out of there. I was so overwhelmed that I left."

"One of my realizations was 'We have nothing.'"

"Mentally, emotionally, and physically, I didn't accept crap into our lives."

"When you have nothing, then everything you see on the shelves [of stores] is emotionally charged. You're at a friend's house and you see their grandmother's picture. It's hard to accept and allow that other people have antiques and family heirlooms."

"There's this juxtaposition. People tell you that you just lost a bunch of stuff, but you still have your family. Of course. But I told my sister, that, yeah, it was stuff, but the shell that held that stuff is gone. At 3 p.m., it's where you go."

"It starts with [missing] a toothbrush. Then it's socks and coats; the table in the foyer. It wells up inside you. It's like grieving the loss of a loved one. It's forever gone."

"I'm a lot less sentimental than I once was. I'm not proud of that, but I've seen that nothing is forever. It changes you. I don't agonize anymore [over keeping items] because it's not forever."

"In the beginning, it's hard to see the good. Now I feel released. The videos are gone. Well, I don't have to document Christmas for the next 12 years. That's OK."

"What's gone is gone. It's a saying. You've got to let it go or you will drive yourself crazy. I can let this eat me alive, or I can let it go."

"Of course life goes on, but the loss is so encompassing. It's just stuff, but it's fricking everything."

"The Fourmile Fire was such an insulated area. Everyone in town felt sorry for the people who lived in the "mountains." But now with fires in Fort Collins, Jefferson County, and Waldo Canyon, there are going to be a lot of people like us—people walking down the aisles of Target, looking at Christmas ornaments and suddenly breaking down in tears. After the fires this year, there are going to be a lot of people who understand this."

Follow senior writer Robert Sanchez on Twitter at @milehighrobert.