Human stories emerge from blaze

Published: June 21, 2013, 6:00 pm

by Carol McGraw and Debbie Kelley -

There’s nothing better than collecting eggs from the chicken coop in your back yard, milking one of your goats and whipping up breakfast, Chandra Westsays, and she can’t wait until she can do that again.

The small organic farm her family had operated for nearly three years, Silly Goose Farm, was wiped out in the Black Forest Fire.

Fortunately, almost all of their alpacas, rabbits, goats, chickens, geese, dogs, cats, horses and birds survived and are temporarily being boarded in various locations in Ramah, Yoder, Peyton and Black Forest.

“People just started showing up with their trucks and loading our animals. It was amazing,” West said. “The fire got our home shortly after we left. It was moving very fast.”

Returning briefly to the 10-acre farm on Wednesday was difficult.

“It was especially hard on our son. We couldn’t even sift through the stuff,” West said Friday, from a hotel room.

But when her husband, Brianwalked through the damage, he found a porcelain goose in what used to be the living room.

“It was the only item of significance we saw intact among the debris, besides a few cups and tools,” West said. “We thought that was really significant because it’s the name of our farm. We saw it as a sign that we needed to rebuild.”

A neighboring organic farmer, Craig McHugh of A Joyful Noise Farm, who was evacuated but did not lose his property, wants to help.

“Last year, Chandra and Brian took in a pregnant cow who was badly burned in the Waldo Canyon fire and nursed her back to health before she calved. They are amazing, loving people, first-generation farmers like us, and care deeply about the food they produce,” McHugh said.

Because insurance won’t cover replacing the Wests’ barn and other burned outbuildings, including the hen house, McHugh has set up a donation page on Facebook to benefit the family,

“We’re already over $2,500,” said McHugh, who has bought eggs from the Wests to sell at farmers’ markets. “We know how hard they have worked, so it was a natural for us to come alongside and help carry their burden.”

West named her farm after her geese, who act funny at times. One, Gertie, got stuck in an empty dog food bag and ran around the farm. Another, Agnes, is best friends with the family’s Great Pyrenees, called Noyo. Even now, while staying at a friend’s house in Peyton, the pair are inseparable.

“It’s a lifestyle that’s irreplaceable,” West said of being a local farmer. “I’m optimistic only because of all the support of friends and family and strangers.”

A patchwork of quilt guilds concerned about the losses in Black Forest are doing what they do best – buy fabric and sew.

The guilds – Piecing Partners, Colorado Springs Quilt Guild and Modern Quilt Guild of Monument have vowed to create or obtain homemade quilts for families that lost homes. Last year, they did something similar for Waldo Canyon.

Last week Piecing Partners also helped several members who lost homes.

“We put together tackle boxes with cutting tools, needles, thread, pattern books, the things quilters use every day,” explained Nikki Rainey, an officer in both Piecing Partners and Colorado Springs Quilt Guild. “It’s like a traveling sewing room.”

They are inviting all quilters to help out. They can drop off ONLY quilts, finished quilt tops, 100 percent cotton fabric or batting. They cannot accept any other items. The donations can be dropped off at the following shops. Ruth’s Stitchery, 4440 Austin Bluff Parkway; Na-la’s Quilt Shoppe, 117 S. Main St., Fountain; Ladybug Hill Quilts, 929 E. Fillmore, and High Country Quilts, 4771 N. Academy Blvd.

JackYonce is the sort of band teacher everyone loves and admires. His music program at Cheyenne Mountain High School has garnered many national awards. His wife Donna Yonce, is the principal flutist with the Pueblo Symphony. When word got out that their house was gone, students, parents and friends got busy.

Craig Ketels, a retired band director at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, has known Yonce 25 years. “He’s a terrific educator and has made a difference in many students’ lives.”

Ketels helped set up a donation page on under Yonce Fire Fund.

They did a Facebook blitz, said Dan Bell, associate high school band director, and director of the junior high school band. “Even students of his from 20 years ago have responded.”

When Yonce and his family, which includes two children, fled the forest, they were able to take her flute and one of his trombones. They had made a list last year after the Waldo Canyon fire. But even at that, he says, he wishes he had prioritized a bit differently.

“I forgot another trombone that I had since junior high. I had worked three paper routes in order to buy it when I was a kid.” He also left behind sheet music, including 100 band scores that he had collected over twenty years.

But he is heartened by the support. “I cant even begin to say how touching everyone’s concern has been. It’s been overwhelming. We are thankful.”

When Colorado Springs Police Lt. Jeff Jensen’s house was burned in the Black Forest fire, a collection of police patches belonging to his young son were destroyed.

Jensen is the brother of Det. Jared Jensen who was killed on duty in 2006. Soon after that Jeff Jensen took his son to Washington, D.C. to see the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The boy, then 5, received some patches and decided to start a collection.

When word went out about the fire loss, police departments from all over began sending patches.

“I spoke to Jeff and he said there are 500 other families out there who have lost their homes and he doesn’t want the attention to focus on him,” said Barbara Miller, police department spokeswoman. “He said the community has been so kind and thoughtful since his brother was killed and he thinks it’s time for other families to be focused on.”

Nevertheless, the patches are arriving from officers everywhere. Those wanting to send patches can send them to attention of Police Officer Adam Romine of the Police Protective Association, Colorado Springs Police Dept., 415 E. Pikes Peak Ave., Suit 200, Colorado Springs, Co, 80903.