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The Next Chapter: Black Forest sifts through the ashes

iStock Forest FireXSmall

The volunteers and members of the AARP chapters around the state, as well as the country, are amazing people who pitch in when help is needed. They engage people of all ages in their communities through volunteerism, they create lively and fun activities, and they raise money and collect food to help others in need, so it was devastating when more than 20 percent of our Black Forest Chapter members lost their homes in the Black Forest fire that started June 11. The fire took the lives of two people and caused tens of millions in property damage, according to local media reports.

Our hearts go out to the members of the Black Forest Chapter, as well as all of the residents in Black Forest, a community outside Colorado Springs.

In the aftermath of the fire, members of the Black Forest Chapter wasted no time springing into action and helping each other, as well as other members of the community. Black Forest Chapter member Stan Beckner kept the AARP state office informed of the impact the fire was having on AARP members. In his reflection, Stan wrote the following and we at the state office felt it sums up what the members of this chapter, one of the strongest AARP Chapters in the state, endured.


A Phoenix Arises


Stan Beckner

The newspapers and media have reported on the devastating Black Forest fire.  They have also reported on the multitude of individual and community outreaches extended to the individuals who have lost so much.  It is apparent, however, that the mythological Phoenix will arise – perhaps has already started to arise – from the devastation.

In ancient mythology the Phoenix is a long living bird that obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.  The mythological bird has had different forms and colors from time to time, but it has always represented the rebirth from disaster or bad times.  At one time the Phoenix was even adopted as a symbol in early Christianity.

The American Red Cross, a multitude of church groups and charitable organizations came to the aid of the victims of both the Black Forest and the Waldo Canyon fires.  They have helped ease the initial pain, but everyone recognizes it will be a long road to what might even approach a “normal” life for those who have lost so much. There are many stories and examples of groups that have banded closer together by assisting others in this very long run.  One example is the story of the Black Forest AARP Chapter.  Almost 20 percent of the members of this group suffered the total loss of their homes.

Some members had only a few moments to evacuate, leaving with only their shirts on their backs.  Most of the other chapter members had a few minutes or hours to evacuate their properties but were gone for several days and did not know the fate of their homes, pets and belongings.

The majority of those evacuated stayed with friends and relatives in the immediate area, but some ended up 100 or more miles from home.

Fortunately, no chapter member perished or was injured badly throughout this period.  Their lives, however, will be changed forever from the trauma resulting from the fire.

AARP Colorado sent care packages of toiletries and other items for the burn victims’ immediate needs.  The chapter itself put together a few additional items.  It was not easy to track down the scattered members to deliver the parcels but with a little help from people who knew relatives, friends, and other acquaintances, the items were eventually delivered.

The recipients were gratified, some to tears, at the thought that their local friends and state AARP office in Denver really cared enough to think of them at this time.  They also have been humbled at the outreach of compassion that the community and relief organizations have shown them.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire many of the victims wanted and needed to talk.  They recounted their painful experiences and many showed pictures of their burnt homes, pointing out things in the ashes that were this or that, which was cherished and now gone forever.

At present those with losses are in the throes of dealing with insurance adjusters.  It is a painful task to try to remember each and every item lost and its value.  This and the subsequent clean-up also bring back stressing details of personal losses.  Some families have vowed to rebuild, some are undecided or are resigned to a future of apartment life in the city away from the solitude of the trees.  For now, and until everything is settled legally and they can move ahead, most are staying with friends or relatives who have gladly taken them in.

The Black Forest AARP Chapter was scheduled to meet on the day of the fire. That, of course, was cancelled as by the time of the meeting no one was allowed into the area.  The church where the chapter meets survived the fire but the members did not know that for several days.

The July chapter meeting was to be the annual picnic at the Black Forest Regional Park.  Since the heavily treed park was burnt as well, the chapter felt that even if they could use the park the visible damage could bring back bad fire memories to many members.  The chapter leadership therefore decided, and made arrangements, to meet at a local buffet restaurant for the July meeting.  The chapter board reallocated the budgeted picnic funds toward buying lunch for the membership at that meeting.  It went well.

At this moment no one knows exactly how things will evolve.  The Black Forest AARP Chapter is determined, as a group, to rise like a Phoenix from the devastation and ashes of the Black Forest fire. They know they are not alone!  Many more are treading a similar uncertain yet renewed path toward the future.  A Phoenix is rising.


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