The Rose Family – Waldo Canyon Fire Survivor Stories

Written by Andy Stauffer

May 23

mountain shadows home

Ken & Kris Rose have lived in the Parkside neighborhood in Colorado Springs since 1986, when the subdivision was still brand new. Ken remembers what the neighborhood looked like back then: “There were probably 40 homes completed, and we bought the house furthest south at the time, so we had this tremendous view of the city… though we didn’t know they were going to build a bunch of houses below us and fill up our view with more homes,” he laughs. Kris also recalls the quieter days of the past: “The only thing up here back then was the Flying W Ranch. The road came up to the ranch, and our neighborhood, and then stopped. There was nothing north of us.” The Roses raised their children in their Mountain Shadows home: two daughters, aged 6 and 10 when they moved in, who went to Chipeta Elementary School right after it first opened. “Parkside was a great neighborhood,” Kris recalls. “It was nice and green; there were a lot of trees, the lawns were very nicely kept and there were a lot of great people.”

Ken motions toward where he first saw smoke

Ken motions toward where he first saw smoke

The couple had 26 years of peace and quiet until 2012, when the Waldo Canyon fire, which had been burning in the mountains, came down the hill and into their neighborhood. Ken remembers the day he first found out about the fire: “That Saturday, we looked up in the sky and saw a little plume of smoke over the hill. We didn’t think anything of it at the time, because it was far away and we figured it would get put out. …then it started growing and growing. But still, it was far away from us. We watched a press conference on the news, and officials were saying ‘Things are getting better; it’s all under control,’ but a few days later a storm came and basically pushed the fire down the hill.”

It was Tuesday when the city told the residents it was time to evacuate. Kris was at work when she first found out: “Someone was listening to the news and told me, so I left downtown where I work, and drove home. There was very little traffic because the police had the roads blocked off so you could only come through if you were showing identification. I came up to the house, and stood out on the deck, and thought, ‘How strange… this is what it was like when we first moved in,’ because there was no traffic, and it was very quiet, and you couldn’t see any smoke anywhere on the horizon.” The thought of evacuation seemed more of a hassle than anything else, she says: “I was thinking ‘Oh, what a pain this is: I need to get my book for the book club tonight, I’ve gotta get some clothes for the rest of the week so I can go to work…‘ I didn’t pack anything essential, because I thought ‘We’ll be back by Saturday.‘ I never felt threatened.”

Ken also remembers not feeling worried about the evacuation: “I came to the house to evacuate with my Mom (who also lives in Parkside), and we took some things from her house, and I got a few things out of our house. But the Police only told us ‘Bring enough stuff for 72 hours.‘ Everything was so calm… it was a hot day, but it was very calm. There was no panic the entire time.” He knew fire fighters were at work using air tankers, and with a fire station at the bottom of the hill, and a major four-lane road with fire hydrants, he felt they were in good hands. “There was no inkling that anything would go wrong,” he says.

"Hodie," a member of the Rose family

“Hodie,” a member of the Rose family

Despite the best efforts of all involved, however, the fire was not stopped. It ended up destroying the Rose’s home, along with almost all the homes in the area. Ken knew their home was gone when he saw an aerial photo of the area on The Denver Post’s website. He describes his feelings the moment he first saw it, “We were in shock… that’s it. That’s all you can do.” Kris tried to cope with the intense emotions involved in losing her home by continuing life as usual: “I just kept going to work each day, because it was an escape. It felt good to be able to leave in the morning and say ‘I’ve gotta go to work,‘ and think about something else all day. I was able to put the fire aside and give my mind a little relief. But everybody at work was very concerned.”

As it turned out, she was able to keep her mind busy with more than just work: they had been planning on going to a family wedding in California just days after the fire. “We thought ‘Well, there’s no sense sticking around here—let’s just go to the wedding since the plans are already made,‘” she remembers. “So a week and a half after the fire, we were in California, trying to forget about it, at least for a while. Then we got back to Colorado and thought ‘Oh yeah, we still need to find a place to live!‘ By that time, it was three weeks after the fire, and there had been more than 300 families whose homes burned in the fire, so most of the rentals in town were gone,” Ken recalls. “However, we did find a place. Kris found a nice rental online on Wood Avenue by the park, and by the time we showed up to take a look, there were already six people behind us! But since we were the first, we got the house.”

Signing the lease turned out to be a dose of reality for Kris: “The property management company said ‘We’ll have you sign a one year lease,‘ and I thought ‘We’re not going to be here for a year! Are you kidding me?‘ Silly me… I was thinking we’d rebuild our home and the house would be done in a month or two and we’d be out of there!” She says, laughing, “…we ended up staying for a year and a half.”

Side view of the home, before the fire

Side view of the home, before the fire

Rebuilding wasn’t their immediate choice, as Ken recalls: “We went all over town looking at homes, and we thought, ‘Well, if we wanted to, now is the perfect time to move.‘” “At the time, everything in Parkside was black and it looked like a war zone, so we wondered ‘Is it best to just move somewhere else where there are trees and there’s an established neighborhood?‘ But all the houses we looked at were either too expensive or they would have needed a lot of work. We really never found an area we liked better, so that’s when we decided to rebuild.” For Kris, friends were also a major factor in returning to Parkside: “Here in our cul-de-sac, we met with our neighbors more often as friends after the fire than we had before. All but one family in our cul-de-sac decided to come back. Neighbors play such an important part, especially in a tight neighborhood like this, where you’re cheek-to-jowl.”

Once the decision was made to move back, the thought of rebuilding was energizing for Kris: “I found the prospect of building exciting. It was like opening a door for me. Before, we had a house that was already built when we moved in, so to get to build a home from the start? Wow. I thought ‘I’m going to make a list of all the things I really want!‘ So that was really exciting.” So they began the process of looking for a builder. “We started talking to our neighbors, asking ‘Which builder are you using?‘ and we went to neighborhood meetings about rebuilding, and started visiting model homes for all the builders in town. We went to every open house we could find, asking ourselves ‘Do we like what these guys do?‘ ‘Do we like this style?’ ‘Do we like that finish?‘ so we did a whole lot of looking first.”

The new home design

The new home design

It was at one of the neighborhood meetings where the Roses met Andy Stauffer: “We were staying late after one of the meetings, and we met Andy and started talking. He showed us some drawings of homes he could build in our neighborhood, and told us: ‘I’m working with a few other families in Parkside, and I think I can build you a home that’s nicer than a cookie-cutter house for about the same price,” Ken remembers. Kris was also intrigued: “We never thought we could afford a custom home, so it was pretty exciting.” They came down to the Stauffer & Sons office in downtown Colorado Springs, and liked what they saw. Kris explains: “I liked when we walked into his office, he had this cool concrete floor with a tree design stamped in it, and an airbrushed concrete table and a round wall made out of 2x4s… to me that said ‘I can build anything.‘” “…and after meeting with him, it felt like he was going to really listen to us, and respond with ideas. It wasn’t just going to be a one-way conversation like ‘Here are your options: pick A, B, or C.’

The building process turned out to be enjoyable for Kris: “I had such a good time getting to know the crews that were working on our house. I’d come to the job site in the morning and bring juice and donuts and it just felt like they were friends. It was so cool to see their talents go into what would become our home.” And though the insurance claim process could have been a hassle, “Andy was really valuable in working directly with the insurance company,” she says. “He would meet with our insurance adjuster and they would talk about what things cost, and why, and he could back it all up with good documentation, so they’d always come to an agreement that worked out.” This was more than she had expected from their builder: “We could have had a builder that wouldn’t have done that.” Ken agrees: “Andy could have said ‘Well, I’m just the builder, I don’t know how to work with insurance companies—you deal with them,‘ so we were blessed that he helped out a lot.”

For Ken, one of the hardest parts of rebuilding was trying to remember and document everything that was lost in the fire: “When you start thinking about 42 years of marriage, and two kids, and grand-kids and all the stuff you’ve collected over the years, it was just mind-boggling to think ‘I’ve gotta list everything that was in the garage, everything that was in the crawlspace, everything that was in every closet, and every drawer.‘” Luckily, Ken was thoughtful enough to snap some photos of the inside of the home during evacuation, however, he wishes he had taken more: “I didn’t take nearly enough pictures. I know now that you should open every drawer, take a picture of every closet, from different angles in every room.” Losing their possessions presented some unexpected annoyances, as Kris remembers: “When everything you own is gone, you don’t realize how much you’re missing. You’ll go to get your nail clippers or tweezers and realize ‘Oh, I don’t have those anymore.’ It’s funny: with the big things, you can sort of deal with it. You think: ‘OK, so I don’t have a couch. Fine.‘ But you’d go to reach for just some little everyday item and it was just… so frustrating.”

The metal tree with the old (bottom) and the new (top)

The metal tree with the old (bottom) and the new (top)

Not everything was consumed in the fire, incredibly. Ken remembers two pleasant surprises he found in the ashes. The first: a metal sculpture. “Kris bought this metal tree art piece in California years ago, and it was in the house when the house burned. When I came to the house right after the fire, the metal tree survived the fire, but only the lower half, so I grabbed it even though I thought ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this yet.‘ Later, one of my old high school friends who had recently taken some welding classes said “Let me see what I can do with that.‘ So he took the old part down below and welded new branches on top. He added six coats of different finishes to get an iridescent look, and it’s just amazing. It really gives you a sense of the “new rising out of the old.” The second surprise Ken found in the rubble was almost unbelievable: “I was sifting through the ashes, down in the basement below where our washer and dryer sat. There was a huge steel I-beam that had warped and twisted in the fire due to the heat (we’ve been told that the fire had gotten to between 2,500-3,000 degrees for at least an hour and a half). Only three feet away from this twisted I-beam was an oak cabinet that I could still recognize. The handles were charred off, but I forced opened the drawers and started digging around inside of there, and there were boxes of letters, photographs, and 35mm slides. They were wet and stuck together, but they had survived the fire. What I think happened was that water line from the washing machine broke when the washer and dryer fell through the floor during the fire, and the water just kept pouring on this oak cabinet, and that’s what kept it from burning.”

Some of the 35mm slides that survived the 3,000 degree fire

Some of the 35mm slides that survived the 3,000 degree fire

The “silver lining” in the whole experience of living through a wildfire and losing nearly everything was the support shown by the community in Colorado Springs, Ken says: “Everybody was so helpful: friends I hadn’t seen since high school contacted us, the people at Young Life where Kris works gave us a “wedding shower” where everybody in the whole building brought stuff we needed… We had friends from out of state sending us checks in the mail and asking ‘What can we do? How can we help?‘ I mean, it was just… wow. I even had a childhood friend drive over here and give me a new bicycle since he knew I lost mine in the fire.” Perhaps the most touching story of generosity came from some on set of total strangers. Kris recalls: “We went out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary at an Italian restaurant. Our architect and his wife happened to be there at the same time, and we started talking about how the house was coming along, and the design, and so on. Later, we finished dinner and went to pay the bill but the server told us ‘The family in the booth behind you paid your bill.‘ These people had no idea who we were, and they paid for us.”

The “Character Tree” across the street

Building a new home from the ground up offered the family the opportunity to add some features that they didn’t have in their previous home. When asked what her favorite feature of the new home is, Kris enthusiastically says “The gas fireplace! I think we’ve used it every night since we moved in. We had a wood burning fireplace before, and I loved the sound and the smell of a wood fire, so I was really reluctant to give that up, but oh my gosh am I glad I did! All you have to do is ‘Click!’” Another feature added is a new window seat by the stairs where Kris likes to read books in the sunshine and view the mountains through the window: “There’s one really big black tree across the street that everybody calls ‘The Character Tree’ — it’s dead as a doornail and it’s gorgeous.” Downstairs, Ken tinkers in his new workshop with double doors, and instead of where the crawl space was before, there’s a walkout basement with a rec room, a bathroom and a bedroom.

The Roses are enjoying their new home, and are happy with their decision to rebuild and are glad to be home. “The only thing wish I would have thought of when building is to ask for bigger closets.” Kris says, chuckling. “…but there was really nowhere to put them!”

The completed home

Stauffer & Sons was honored to work with the Rose family and many of their neighbors in helping them rebuild from the Waldo Canyon fire. The Rose Residence served as inspiration for our Redcloud Peak plan which you can see here. If you’re in the market for a new home, or need to rebuild from the fire, we would be happy to speak with you about your project. Just contact us for more information, and we’ll invite to our office downtown for a free consultation with absolutely no pressure. We’ll show you our office, give you a tour of some homes we’ve built, and, if you choose to build with us, add you to our list of happy customers. Come visit us—we can’t wait to hear your story!


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