2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Black Forest DVD captures historic fire and its aftermath

Published: January 8, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin
Terry Stokka of the Black Forest History Committee. He was photographed at the Gazette Tuesday, January 7, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis

Terry Stokka of the Black Forest History Committee. He was photographed at the Gazette Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis

The sequel is rarely as good as the original. (Need I mention Anchorman 2?)

But that movie adage doesn’t hold up in the case of the video released recently by the Black Forest History Committee.

In 2010, the committee produced “Historical Tour of the Black Forest.” The 45-minute DVD was a fascinating account of the unincorporated 100-square-mile community, mostly homes on 5-acre lots, north of Colorado Springs and bordered by the Palmer Divide.

The video took viewers back to Black Forest’s founding in 1859 as a logging center and explored the people, such as legendary teacher Edith Wolford, and neighborhoods that have inhabited its Ponderosa pine forest. It was a labor of love by people who wanted to preserve and share their affection for their community.

Now, the nonprofit, volunteer group has produced a second video: “The Day the Forest Burned.” This one is a documentary of the Black Forest fire last June that killed two people, destroyed 488 homes and burned 14,280 acres.

Instead of being a labor of love, this video was more from necessity to tell future generations of the tragedy that ranks among the worst in Colorado history in size and scope, deaths, homes and businesses lost, and overall financial damage.

The DVD project was the idea of Terry Stokka, an Air Force retiree and forest resident since 1993 who serves as chairman of the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club.

Stokka lives in the Falcon Forest subdivision, west of the intersection of Shoup and Black Forest roads, where the fire ignited June 11.

His home was spared, but 26 of his neighborhood’s 65 homes were destroyed and another 25 suffered serious damage to their lots and outbuildings.

“I got to thinking after the fire that we need to document this,” Stokka said. “It’s such a defining moment in the history of Black Forest. We needed to preserve it.”

Unlike with the Waldo Canyon fire that ravaged the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs in 2012, there is no professionally run history museum in Black Forest to collect artifacts or preserve in archives the events of last June.

Here is the 28-page booklet and the DVD "The Day the Forest Burned" produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. The DVD is a documentary of the June 2013 fire that killed two and destroyed 488 houses in the unincorporated community north of Colorado Springs.

Here is the 28-page booklet and the DVD “The Day the Forest Burned” produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. The DVD is a documentary of the June 2013 fire that killed two and destroyed 488 houses in the unincorporated community north of Colorado Springs.

So Stokka got busy gathering newspaper stories, photos and videos and collecting personal accounts from eyewitnesses, victims and public officials.

“I wrote a narrative, trying to be as accurate as I could with times and dates,” he said. “I gathered 250 pictures and six video clips that represent a pretty dramatic collection.”

Among those donating photos was the staff of The Gazette as well as the Black Forest News, the Colorado Springs Fire Department and other sources.

Stokka organized the information chronologically, weaving in bits of history on the forest. Then he turned everything over to committee member Jeff Spector who spent hours creating the actual video with Stokka’s audio narration.

I particularly liked the “before and after” photos of historic buildings in the video. Of course, it was sad to see how many of the structures in the first video didn’t survive.

And it made the original effort seem especially inspired.

Stokka said it was difficult to edit the narrative to a reasonable viewing length. So he included the extra material in a 28-page booklet that the committee is selling with the DVD. Three small maps of the forest also are for sale, showing the houses lost and the scope of the fire.

I wondered if anyone gathered any artifacts such as the skeletal remains of a motorcycle or the charred street signs and fused silverwear collected by the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum used to dramatically illustrate the impact of the Waldo Canyon fire in an exhibit last summer.

“The idea of a display would be nice,” Stokka said. “But I’m not sure we could put that together. I don’t know if anybody collected artifacts.”

Sadly, he said, there are still plenty of burned homes in the forest where an archivist could find display pieces.

But that’s a whole different project. I’m impressed at what Stokka has accomplished in the DVD package. And I’m impressed at his goal for the money made from the sale of the DVD.

“All proceeds will go to our Black Forest Community Club,” Stokka said. “All the money will go to relief agencies and be funneled to victims of the fire.”

This is one of the three maps of Black Forest included in the DVD "The Day the Forest Burned" produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. This map pinpoints the location of the 488 houses destroyed in the June 2013 fire. Map courtesy of the Black Forest Community Club.

This is one of the three maps of Black Forest included in the DVD “The Day the Forest Burned” produced by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. This map pinpoints the location of the 488 houses destroyed in the June 2013 fire. Map courtesy of the Black Forest Community Club.

“The Day the Forest Burned” is a 50-minute DVD created by the history committee of the Black Forest Community Club. The DVD and three maps sell for $15. An accompanying 28-page booklet is an extra $3.

The DVDs will be available for purchase — strictly cash or check transactionsbeginning Friday through Feb. 1 at the front desk of The Gazette, 30 E. Pikes Peak Ave., in downtown Colorado Springs.

The Gazette has no legal or financial interest in the video and will not profit from any sales. All proceeds will be returned to the Black Forest Community Club, which is solely responsible for its content.

Checks should be made payable to the BFC Club, a nonprofit organization.

For more information, please call Terry Stokka at 495-0895 or email him at tstokka@juno.com.

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