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Lime Gulch Fire resurrects fears, resolve of couple who lost home in ’12

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

For Kristen Moeller of Conifer, the Lime Gulch Fire — to borrow a Yogi Berra adage — has been “déjà vu all over again.”

That’s because Moeller and her husband, David Cottrell, lost their beloved home near Kuehster Road and Rocky Top Trail in the Lower North Fork Fire 15 months ago. And, last Wednesday, they received a call to evacuate — again.
This time around, Moeller’s philosophy as she watched the flames torch trees in the distance was different than it was last year.
Moeller said that while the Lime Gulch Fire was definitely re-traumatizing, she and Cottrell made the decision last Wednesday to leave the property, the yurt they just erected and their possessions, including the homey-feeling tapestries, furniture and their other newly acquired possessions.
“We chose our life,” she said of their decision. “At this point, we had a lot of stuff (in the yurt). We chose to let go — not just hoping that our things wouldn’t burn, but knowing that everything would be OK.”
In contrast, losing their home and all of their possessions in the Lower North Fork Fire was devastating and difficult. As Moeller put it, they have walked through fire and come out the other side stronger and wiser.
As of Sunday night, the Lime Gulch Fire south of Conifer was fully contained. No structures were lost, and no one was injured. However, the fire scorched 511 acres.
The Lower North Fork Fire, which started on March 26, 2012, burned 4,100 acres, destroyed 23 buildings, killed three people and caused $11 million in damage.
The High Timber Times has chronicled Moeller’s and Cottrell’s journey since they lost their home.
A new beginning
Just days before the Lime Gulch Fire started, the couple had erected the 16-foot-diameter yurt so they could spend weekends on their property this summer. While it has been there only a few days, the yurt symbolizes stability, a retreat, a return to what they had called their forever home.
The couple want to reacquaint themselves with their 37 acres that lost virtually every pine tree and will never look the same again. It is their new sanctuary, a peaceful place to reconnect with the land they love.
Moeller, 47, says the land looks a lot different, though grasses and small groves of aspen have sprung up, and wildflowers are blooming everywhere. Where she once looked at pine trees everywhere, she now sees the results of the devastation of five fires: the Hayman, Buffalo Creek, Hi Meadow, Lower North Fork and now the Lime Gulch.
She sees the fires that have devastated that area south of Conifer as a metaphor for life.
“We definitely see the battle scars of the land,” she said Sunday afternoon from the yurt on her property. “Just like the land, we are different from this experience, yet we are stronger and wiser after going through this.”
When the Lime Gulch Fire started, the couple were not at their property, but they went there to help evacuate their neighbors, who have become a tight-knit group in the wake of the Lower North Fork Fire.
“At first, I lost it,” she said upon hearing of the Lime Gulch Fire. “For those of us (who went through the Lower North Fork Fire), it was especially traumatizing. But then we rallied to help our neighbors. It was mostly shock, plus panic mixed with a lot of grief and fear.”
She and Cottrell, 48, watched the fire from the deck outside their yurt. They watched trees exploding with flames and huge plumes of smoke.
“Reminiscent is not a strong enough word to explain the feelings,” she said. “It was like replaying (the Lower North Fork Fire). We could sit on our deck and see what it must have been like to see it from this perspective (last year).”
She called the yurt “especially precious,” a cozy sanctuary for the couple.
“It is the first home we have built here,” she said, adding that the trailer on the property that they appropriately named “Flame” just didn’t have the same feel of permanence.
“My love for this land has deepened,” Moeller said of their property. “I feel lucky to watch it go through the phases of its recovery.”
She said she launched the notion of “firewalkers” on her blog.
“Firewalkers,” she explained, “walk through the fires of life and emerge stronger. Seeing the battle scars of the land are like metaphors for life. We are different, yet we are stronger and wiser if we allow it.”