Since January, I have been serving as an interim pastor in Black Forest, Colo., where fires have raged for more than a week. Some of my clergy friends thought I was crazy doing this at the age of 81. Of course, we have been impacted and devastated with what has happened. We are safe and secure, but I will be involved for some time with what has happened.
On June 17, I was able to return to the site and found our buildings still intact and nothing destroyed. There is some smoky odor throughout the three buildings, but we are grateful for heroic efforts by firefighters and other first responders to save our buildings. There are black, burned-out embers on the front steps to the sanctuary. The three churches at that intersection were saved, and from all indications, the firefighters must have dug in because some trees to the north of the church across the street look like matchsticks.
On June 12, the morning after the fire started, I went to the area and talked to the fire chief as he came off an all-night tour of duty. I asked about our church, and he reported they were able to save all three of the churches and some historic log community buildings. What a welcomed and exciting response! As I arrived at the site on June 17, I saw large water trucks in our parking lot. They were being used to fill smaller trucks that arrive for refilling and then return to the burning area. As of June 19, the fire is 85 percent contained.
I had a very interesting conversation with a young woman from South Dakota who was driving one of the smaller water trucks. This was her second trip to Colorado as she worked the fire near Fort Collins, Colo., last summer. So far, she told me, the Black Forest Fire has destroyed 509 homes, with 19 damaged. Two individuals lost their lives because their pickup, which they loaded to leave as they saw flames close to their home, did not start. Some of those with homes destroyed were able to return June 18. Newspaper photos of homeowners standing in the midst of rubble are beyond belief.
Our church buildings are still standing, but several of our members were not as fortunate. We know that the homes of 10 members were destroyed. We are still trying to locate some members who do not have cell phones. Sad stories were shared Sunday, June 16, as we gathered for worship at another church in Colorado Springs. Our church treasurer and her family lost their home where they lived for 34 years. They plan to move and not rebuild. One member I visited, who came to Black Forest during the 1950s, lost her home. She told one of our members she is not going to move and will rebuild.
*An alumnus of Iliff School of Theology, Kreps is a United Methodist pastor and retired member of the Rocky Mountain Annual (regional) Conference. He is a former missionary to Angola and chair of Angola Advocates for the Rocky Mountain Conference.