Jun 14, 2012 2:15 AM by Zach Thaxton
In the living room of their Colorado Springs home Wednesday, Donald and Shirley Parlow solemnly commemorated the tenth anniversary of the day their beloved cabin, their second home for more than 30 years, burned to the ground in the Hayman Fire. Theirs was one of the 133 homes burned in Colorado's largest-ever wildfire, sparked by a forestry technician who purposely set a fire in a campfire ring during a total burn ban amid severe drought conditions.
"Terry Barton lit a fire and burned us out," Shirley said. The couple says they will never forgive Barton, who served six years in federal prison after pleading guilty to arson. The inferno had raged for five days, creeping southward, when it reached their cabin on Trail Creek Road north of the community of Lake George. After they evacuated, they watched live coverage of the fire on television and witnessed the home they owned since 1971 burn in front of their eyes on June 13, 2002. "We watched it burn on TV and saw it on the Internet," Donald said.
In the aftermath of the fire, the couple endured "hell," as Shirley called it. The first hellish step was returning to their 10-acre property. "It was tough," Donald said. "I just wanted to cry." The fire burned so hot that aluminum siding melted and flowed like water. The couple saved some of the solidified melted aluminum and made a wall plaque out of it commemorating the date their home burned. Trees burned so hot and so thoroughly that the underground roots smoldered for days. The couple's son stepped on a burned-out root and his foot sank into the hot, hollowed remants and was badly burned and broken.
The days and weeks that followed were torturous. The couple were not allowed to touch anything since it was considered evidence in the criminal investigation into the fire. Their homeowner's insurance provider labeled them a high fire risk for their primary residence in Colorado Springs even though it was their secondary residence nearly 90 minutes away that was scorched in the arson-sparked inferno. They were solely in charge of removing the rubble and burned trees from their property and the once-fertile soil on their land was reduced to a sterile, concrete-like wasteland. "The only helping hand you get is on the end of your own arm," Donald said. The couple did not rebuild on the property, but did put in a small camper. Virtually any improvement to the property has required a miriad of complicated permit filings. "You have to jump through a lot of permits for just everything," Shirley said. The couple tells the story of a neighbor who evacuated his horses to Sedalia, only to be denied their return because paperwork proving his ownership of the equines had burned in the fire.
Donald and Shirley warn victims of the High Park Fire near Fort Collins that the days, weeks, years, and decade to come will be extremely challenging. "It's not going to be easy," Shirley said. "Contrary to some people's thinking that you just get over it, you don't. It's always there." Donald says the victims need to be self-reliant. "Take it as it comes because they're not going to get much help from anybody and they're going to have to do it themselves," he said. "It's in the past, but it's still right there. It's right there looking at you every minute of the day."