2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

HONORED AND HUMBLED TO JOIN MUSEUM EXHIBIT

Published: April 29, 2013, 12:01 pm, by Bill Vogrin
A Mountain Shadows street sign, charred during the Waldo Canyon fire, will be part of a special exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

A Mountain Shadows street sign, charred during the Waldo Canyon fire, will be part of a special exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

Last week, I was humbled by an email I received.

It came from Leah Davis Witherow, the curator of history at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

The museum is putting together an exhibit on the Waldo Canyon fire to correspond with the one-year anniversary. Called “From the Ashes: The Waldo Canyon Fire,” it debuts June 22 at the museum, 215 S. Tejon St. downtown.

Aluminum trim from mobile homes parked in Mountain Shadows melted and turned to liquid in the Waldo Canyon fire.

Aluminum trim from mobile homes parked in Mountain Shadows melted and turned to liquid in the Waldo Canyon fire.

Recently, I got a sneak peek at the exhibit. I can tell you it will be a powerful display of mementos of the inferno that charred 18,247 acres, killed two people and destroyed 347 homes in Mountain Shadows as well as the cherished Old West tourist attraction Flying W Ranch.  I expect the exhibit to be a popular attraction, and not simply because it’s free.

And I never dreamed I’d have any connection to the exhibit beyond being a fan.

But then I received the email Wednesday from Leah.

She was asking permission to display a copy of the Side Streets column I wrote under the headline “Hell in the Rearview Mirror.”

Dinner plates from the Flying W Ranch warped and welded together as the fire swept through the historic Old West tourist attraction, destroying it.

Dinner plates from the Flying W Ranch warped and welded together as the fire swept through the historic Old West tourist attraction, destroying it.

It was published online June 27, the day after the fire exploded into the city and triggered a frantic evacuation by 30,000 or so residents in the fire’s path.

My family was among them. My wife, Cary, and I fought through the heat, smoke and ash to get home, gather our son, Ben, our dog,  a few important papers, photos and precious keepsakes and escape.

I wrote about it sitting at my desk, with Nugget the Wonder Dog, in my lap. We were evacuees like so many others, piecing together events that still didn’t seem real and wondering if our home had survived.

“Although I have received many personal accounts of the evacuation, none so perfectly and beautifully sums up the experience quite like yours,” Leah wrote. “Would you mind us using it?”

The painting and frame survived, but the glass melted in the inferno created by the Waldo Canyon fire.

The painting and frame survived, but the glass melted in the inferno created by the Waldo Canyon fire.

Of course, I replied. Definitely. Yes.

During my career, I’ve been lucky to win awards for my reporting and writing. But to be included in the museum exhibit is humbling. I consider it as prestigious as any previous honor.

But I started feeling guilty almost immediately. I was hardly alone in The Gazette newsroom during those long, intense and ultimately heartbreaking days last June.

Never was I more proud to be part of a team of journalists as I was then.

From the first sickening plume of smoke Saturday, June 23, until the winds shifted and the beast was contained days later, we worked around the clock getting out the news in print, online, through social media — doing whatever it took to keep people informed.

We did it even as several of us were evacuated. We did our jobs, 24-7, telling the extraordinary stories of the victims and the heroes, directing people to relief agencies and linking those in need with helping hands.

So yes, Leah, please use my column in the exhibit. And thank you for asking, on behalf of everyone at The Gazette.

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Click here to read WALDO CANYON FIRE: Hell in the rearview mirror.

To read my follow-up: SIDE STREETS: There’s no place like home, follow this link.

On June 27, 2012, the Gazette's Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin wrote about his family's frantic evacuation the previous night from the Waldo Canyon fire. The family pet, Nugget the Wonder Dog, sat on his lap in the Gazette newsroom.

On June 27, 2012, the Gazette’s Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin wrote about his family’s frantic evacuation the previous night from the Waldo Canyon fire. The family pet, Nugget the Wonder Dog, sat on his lap in the Gazette newsroom.

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