COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. — Nearly 260 members of the Colorado Springs Colorado North Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were just beginning the first day of Cub Scout day camp in the Black Forest area when someone noticed smoke billowing over the trees.
“As a matter of preparedness, we always keep an eye out for signs of fire,” said President Kevin C. Woodward, stake president. “It’s the natural disaster for which we have planned and prepared our response.”
Stake Primary president Shirlene Brooks called 911 and was informed that it would be best to get everyone out of the area. So despite a full week of planned camping and hiking activities for 150 Cubs, 110 leaders started gathering the boys. Soon a member of the stake who knew the area well arrived to guide the group safely home via a route that would take them more quickly out of harm’s way without having to fight through the main roads already congested with evacuees.
According to Woodward, it was the first of a series of “little miracles” that saw several thousand Latter-day Saints living in the Colorado Springs area safely through a frightening week during which the Black Forest Fire has raged, killing two people and consuming more than 14,000 acres of land and destroying some 485 homes.
As of late Monday evening, the fire was considered to be 75 percent contained. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
“They say this has been the worst wildfire ever in the state of Colorado,” Woodward said. “We are so sorry for the loss of life, and we are concerned for the people of all faiths who have lost their homes or been displaced.”
At the height of the blaze, some 40,000 people were under orders to evacuate their property, including more than 200 LDS families. El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said that during the next few days many people will be allowed to return to their homes, even if only for a few hours, to retrieve whatever personal belongings they can salvage.
“The response on the part of government agencies, the faith community and the community as a whole has been wonderful,” Woodward said. “We have a great relationship with many other faith groups in the area, and everyone is pulling together to meet the immediate needs of those who have lost homes or been evacuated.”
Woodward said a total of seven LDS families — one from his stake and six from the neighboring Colorado Springs Colorado East Stake — are known to have lost their homes in the fire. The family in his stake happened to be the family of the man who came up to Cub Scout day camp to guide the group safely home.
“From what we’ve been told, all of these families are insured, so they’ll have the means to rebuild,” Woodward said. “But that doesn’t meet the short-term need for housing, food, clothing and other necessities of life.”
Church resources and its organized response have provided necessities for not only affected Latter-day Saints, but also others in the community.
“The organization of the church allows us to respond very quickly to community needs,” Woodward said.
Members throughout the Colorado Springs area have opened their homes to families in need of temporary housing. And a huge clothing drive was sponsored by the LDS Church last Saturday to make clothing available to those in need.
“People were able to come and choose what they needed and were able to walk out of there with clothing that would work for them over the short-term,” Woodward said.
All of the LDS families who were displaced or lost their homes have either made arrangements for their housing or have been placed with a LDS family for the time being.
“The family in our stake was a family of nine and we thought it might be kind of tough to find a temporary place for a family of that size,” Woodward said. “But, we sent out word through the wards in our stake and we were able to find a nice home that had just been vacated by a military family that was transferred to Germany. We were able to bring in some furniture and make it a nice place for them to stay until more permanent arrangements can be made.”
During the coming weeks LDS Church members and missionaries will be involved in a variety of service projects, Woodward said. “We’ll help wherever we’re needed.”
The experience of the past week, Woodward said, is “a great reminder for each of us.”
“When you’re forced to leave your home at a moment’s notice, not knowing whether or not everything you leave behind will be destroyed, you really take inventory of what’s important, what you really need, what you don’t need, so you can take those things and move quickly,” Woodward said. “It’s a good idea for everyone to think through their priorities and in a spirit of preparedness, be ready to grab what they really need and value and just go.”
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company