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Reflections and rebuilds: homeowners look back on Waldo Canyon

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Posted at 3:22 PM, Jun 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 08:36:54-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — 347 homes were lost in the Waldo Canyon Fire as it ripped through northwestern Colorado Springs 10 years ago.

Many looking back are still in disbelief of just how quickly the flames entered their neighborhood. Days before, the flames appeared to be far away on the other side of the mountains.

Families lost precious heirlooms, there were items they didn't realize they used on a day-to-day basis that perished with the flames. As June marks one decade since the fire- they can look back now and say memories are more important than materials.

For many, the months after the fire involved some tough decisions to either move away or stay and try to rebuild the homes many had countless memories in.

CJ Moore

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CJ Moore watches a KOAA special from 2012 she still has on her DVR in 2022.

If there's one thing long-time Colorado Springs resident CJ Moore loves, it's the color red. It's on full display in her home after she decided to rebuild from losing it in the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Moore remembers looking at the smoke when Waldo Canyon broke out in El Paso County, she truly didn't believe it could ever make it over the ridge.

She was evacuated from her home and then was allowed to return to gather some items, but not spend the night. Moore decided to get some things done, she ironed napkins, watered plants, and then got a call from her mother in Alabama.

"She goes darlin', put the sterling silver into your car no-ow, And I said yes ma'am," Moore said.

Moore grabbed the sterling silver, her late husband's ashes, and a few other items before leaving her home. Little did she know, that would be the last time she would see her home still standing.

"It looked like boiling oil coming down the hillside," Moore said.

"I was like, Oh my God, there is nothing left. And there really was not" - CJ Moore

Staying with a friend whose son was a firefighter, she learned her home was gone. She would later be allowed back into the neighborhood to see the damage.

"I was like, Oh my God, there is nothing left. And there really was not," Moore said.

Going through the debris she found items like a piece of art, a bookcase, her sorority pin, her grandmother's iron skillets, and some of her favorite books. Moore would open the books only for the pages to disintegrate.

Moore decided to stay and rebuild the home she had lived in for about thirty years, a friend of hers knew the architect of her home. As fate would have it, the architect had the floor plan of her home in her basement.

15 months later, she would have her home back with some adjustments she had always wanted to make. To this day, her favorite color red is on display as well as an abundance of art she's been given and collected since losing it in the fire.

"Only thing I hate about it is there's not much of my late husband left here," Moore said.

Connie Munson

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Connie Munson gives a tour of her Colorado Springs home.

Connie Munson was volunteering at the fire's command center when she saw her home go up on flames on the big screens.

When she had return to get some items after being evacuated for a few days, she's still baffled by the fact that all she really took from her house was a container of blueberries.

"Like why? You know?," Munson said, "That was it. That was it. That's all I grabbed. I just grabbed I just, you know, there was no sense of urgency. We'd been out for a while. We've been we've been evacuated. It's like, okay, we're gonna go home. It's way over there."

Munson says her two ways of relieving stress are running and baking. She was planning on making blueberry muffins with the blueberries she had purchased just days before.

After seeing the flames hit her home on TV, she went for a run and that's when what had happened truly hit her.

"It's like, oh my gosh, I just lost everything," Munson said.

A decade later, Munson is grateful for all of the people who stepped up to help. Her friends helped her through the rebuilding process.

"The deal was if I was going to hire them, they would still be my friends when we were done," Munson said.

She would later create what she called a dream kitchen and her home would be rebuilt for her to make new memories. There are items like art she had collected around the world and her sewing machine she would come to miss.

Years later, she looks back and realizes while she lost so much there was more she gained.

"what was important to me truly was the friendships the friends. I am so grateful that people helped. I couldn't have done it," Munson said.

Waldo Canyon was a first for Colorado in just how many homes were destroyed. As Munson looks back she feels people need to have a plan in the event something like Waldo Canyon happens again.

"Be sure you have all the stuff that's important to you. You can always get a birth certificate again, you know," Munson said, "but really focus on what's important to you, like my sewing machine was really important to me."

Bryan Gibson

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Bryan Gibson looks up inside his own personal observatory he included in part of his plan after rebuilding from Waldo Canyon.

It's hard to miss Bryan Gibson's observatory driving along Flying W Ranch Road in Colorado Springs. For him, this was a dream he had held for 50 years.

His dream came at the expense of the home he had lived in for years. During the fire he was initially in Wisconsin, his mother was living with his family and stayed in Colorado Springs when she called to let him know the fire had started.

Gibson went to work in Colorado Springs and started to see the flames move. He immediately went home to get his mother and pack up their things.

He estimated there were about 30 minutes before they needed to get out of their homes. After a conversation with his home, the clock was ticking.

Ever the scientist, he made sure to itemize what was in his home as he packed up.

"I was fortunate enough to think while I had those 28 minutes I went around and took 640 photos," Gibson. He put together a list with the value of all of the items in his home that equaled out to about 140 pages.

Needless to say, his insurance company was surprised.

"They'd never have anybody do that," Gibson laughed.

His insurance agent was shocked by the destruction in the fire, foundations were completely ripped out.

Although he was prepared as he could've been, he still misses some of the items he wasn't able to get.

"Later you look back and say boy I really wish I would've saved this," Gibson said, "I realized that it wasn't the things themselves are important but it was the memories that are attached to them."

For him, what sticks out are his dad's golf clubs.

"It would've been nice to still have those," Gibson said.

Then the rebuilding process began.

His family decided on an Italian architecture style for the home and as he was designing the home, he decided to keep some space in the event he could one day build his very own observatory.

An observatory he dreamed about as a kid in Wisconsin, when he thought about building an observatory out of a corn silo.

"Once the house burned down I thought maybe I would prepare the ground here in case I ever got an observatory," Gibson.

Complete with telescopes and special technology, he's able to see the great space and share it with others. Each visitor to the observatory signs wooden posts to mark the occasion.

In 2017, it finally happened. He welcomed people into a dream he had always had for half a century.

Complete with telescopes and special technology, he's able to see the great space and share it with others. Each visitor to the observatory signs wooden posts to mark the occasion.

Gibson is a man of faith, he's grateful for what his family has overcome and as he's entered retirement, his joy is sharing his love with people from everywhere.

"I feel so blessed, so fortunate," Gibson said.
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