2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • We all need tee shirts saying: “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain”

    Sun, April 13, 2014 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    Disasters are a very real part of life in Colorado Springs.  Things here burn. And flood. And they slide down mountainsides. And once in a while things shake. We even get the occasional twister.  Today’s special pull-out section of The Gazette shows how locals can prepare for the disasters that can strike in the Pikes Peak region. Please, read it carefully.

    Take heed to the warnings. There’s plenty of history that teaches us bad things do happen. And with some regularity. 

    To know this, you don’t have to be a history expert. I have learned this lesson pretty well after 20 years living in the foothills in the Rockrimmon neighborhood.

     Like thousands of you, I found myself running for my life on June 26, 2012, when the Waldo Canyon fire collided with a thunderstorm creating a massive, swirling column of hellfire that roared down the foothills into Mountain Shadows, threatening to incinerate much of northern Colorado Springs.

    Two people died that night and 347 homes were destroyed. It was shocking. People are still rebuilding from what was declared the worst fire in Colorado history.

    Houses in Mountain Shadows burn on June 26, 2012. By Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

    Houses in Mountain Shadows burn on June 26, 2012. Gazette file photo

    And most of you know, the fire surrendered that title a year later when the unincorporated community of Black Forest ignited last June, killing two more people, destroying 488 homes and burning 14,280 acres beyond the north border of Colorado Springs.

    Of course, these catastrophes were compounded by flash floods that swept tons of rock and debris from the charred mountainsides down U.S. 24, carrying away motorists in raging torrents of black floodwaters, wrecking businesses and homes in Manitou Springs and in communities up and down Ute Pass. The rains also caused flooding in Black Forest and across the region, leaving at least four dead.

    With this mayhem, death and destruction all around us, I’m amazed at the poor attendance I’ve seen at community meetings held to educate folks about preparing for the worst. I’ve sat in auditoriums where the emergency services experts outnumbered the members of the public in the audience.

    Thankfully, more folks have turned out at recent meetings. That’s good because people need to stay informed because it will be years before we can relax.

    These disasters were not fluke occurrences. We’ve had conflagrations going back to 1854 when a wildfire reportedly started on Cheyenne Mountain, burned about 50 miles west through Divide and Lake George to Wilkerson Pass in Park County and started burning back again before winter snow finally put it out.

    Fire destroyed much of downtown Colorado Springs when a trash fire in the rail yards ignited a railcar full of explosive powder Oct. 2, 1898.

    John Schnake walks past a sandbag wall at a neighbors house that is just above his home on the east side of Highway 24 in Cascade. The sandbags were placed there by volunteers working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) and in places the sandbags are twelve high and seven sandbags wide. Schnake said he's hopeful that the sandbags will divert 98 percent of the water that might flow down from the burn scar above the homes. "Think of it as a funnel and I live at the bottom of the funnel," he said. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    John Schnake walks past a sandbag wall at a neighbors house that is just above his home on the east side of Highway 24 in Cascade. The sandbags were placed there by volunteers working with the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP) and in places the sandbags are twelve high and seven sandbags wide. Schnake said he’s hopeful that the sandbags will divert 98 percent of the water that might flow down from the burn scar above the homes. “Think of it as a funnel and I live at the bottom of the funnel,” he said.
    Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

    And on Jan. 17, 1950, a blaze erupted on Cheyenne Mountain and burned east through Camp Carson, killing eight soldiers and a 14-year-old boy who skipped classes at West Junior High to join the fight. The fire consumed 50 square miles of Cheyenne Mountain and Camp Carson, seriously injured more than 30 soldiers and destroyed 92 buildings.

    I heard, firsthand, some of the horror stories from that fire, which started after midnight, reportedly when wind gusts estimated at 100 mph ignited smoldering brush piles left by crews clearing the land for new golf courses at The Broadmoor hotel.

    In 2002 I interviewed survivor Charles “Bud” Burrill, then 71, who was a private at Camp Carson when the fire erupted. He told me he still had flashbacks whenever he heard news of someone burned in a fire. He was reminded of agonizing months he spent in a hospital with third-degree burns to his face, hand and legs. He was burned driving another soldier to the hospital in thick smoke and their Jeep drove into a ravine where a bridge had burned away.

    “My face went right into the fire,” Burrill told me in 2002. “I remember seeing these red ashes. It about burnt my face off. My right hand was real deep in the ashes. I pulled my hand out and all the skin fell off.”

    An estimated 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers fought the blaze, which burned hot for almost 24 hours and smoldered for weeks until a heavy snowfall extinguished lingering hot spots.

    Besides historic fires, the region has endured rains and flooding of biblical proportions, including the Memorial Day flood of 1935 that killed upwards of 18 people according to various reports, destroyed every bridge over Monument and Fountain creeks but the one at Bijou Street and did $1.7 million in damage.

    A mailbox and chimney were the only things left of Ted Robertson's home after the Black Forest fire roared through his property. Courtesy Ted Robertson.

    A mailbox and chimney were the only things left of Ted Robertson’s home after the Black Forest fire roared through his property. Courtesy Ted Robertson.

    A second major flood in 1965 killed two children, washed out roads and bridges, and caused millions of dollars in damage.

    Those heavy rains in July 1965 also sent boulders and debris cascading down on the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, destroying the ape house and damaging the hippo house. Boulders also blocked the entrances of NORAD, the military space complex burrowed inside Cheyenne Mountain during the Cold War to watch for missile and air attacks on North America. Landslides also gashed Interstate 25 south of the city at the time.

    But there’s far more to worry about than fire and rain. There have been blizzards that buried the region including a March 11, 1909, storm that pounded Colorado Springs with 26.5 inches of snow. Locusts infested the region in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl era.

    In December 1995, a late-night earthquake measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale shook the Broadmoor neighborhood. The quake was pinpointed on the southern end of the Oil Creek Fault, one of two Cheyenne Mountain earthquake faults.

    And in the 1980s and ’90s, slowly sliding hillside land damaged homes across the city. In 2000, a warning by state geologists prompted a multimillion-dollar federal buyout and the demolition of 13 homes in an active 200-acre landslide in the Broadmoor area.

    As for tornadoes, two rated EF3 or higher, with winds in excess of 135 mph, have hit El Paso County in recent years. The first was in 1977 while the second, in 1979, dropped into Manitou Springs causing one injury and significant damage.

    A lone firefighter tries to stop the spread of the Black Forest fire. Photo by Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    A lone firefighter tries to stop the spread of the Black Forest fire. Photo by Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

    Have I gotten your attention yet? The point is not to scare everyone into moving away. Instead, I urge everyone to pay attention. When experts say to avoid expansive soils, or to landscape to protect against water and debris flows, or to thin trees to protect against wildfire, please listen and act.

    Take seriously the experts’ urging to plan for evacuation. Pack a bag and keep it ready for escape. Talk to your kids about how to react, who to call, where to run in the event of disaster.

    Get a weather radio that can alert you, day and night, to imminent threats of flood or dangerous weather.

    Compile important documents and keepsakes in a fire safe or container so you can quickly grab it, stuff it in your car and run.

    I remember wishing I’d done that when the ash and embers of the Waldo Canyon fire were choking the air and floating down on our Rockrimmon neighborhood.

    Our evacuation would have been a tad less pulse-pounding if I didn’t have to take the time to videotape the contents of the house we were leaving behind. I remember wishing I’d been better prepared and cursing the things I’d forgotten when I finally reached our safe haven.

    Don’t repeat my mistakes. Be prepared.

    I’ve covered plenty of disasters. I’ve seen the heartbreak of the victims. I’ve even packed everything I could in my Jeep and run for my life. Haven’t we all learned our lessons?

    The Black Forest fire was an estimated 2,500 degrees when it reached Judy von Ahlefeldt's home. She said her home exploded from the heat. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

    The Black Forest fire was an estimated 2,500 degrees when it reached Judy von Ahlefeldt’s home. She said her home exploded from the heat. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

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  • Neighbor stood and fought for common sense over aesthetics making new Colorado Springs roof a breeze

    Thu, August 29, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Randy Murrish stood in front of his home at 87 Raven Hills Court in this July 14, 2000, photo.  Murrish was denied permission by the Raven Hills Homeowners Association to install fire resistant asphalt shingles on his roof.  He would have been the first of 225 homes in his subdivision to have the asphalt shingles. The Gazette file

    Randy Murrish stood in front of his home at 87 Raven Hills Court in this July 14, 2000, photo. Murrish was denied permission by the Raven Hills Homeowners Association to install fire resistant asphalt shingles on his roof. He would have been the first of 225 homes in his subdivision to have the asphalt shingles. The Gazette file

    Thanks to a hard weekend of work by a crew of six men, I have a new peace of mind.

    The crew replaced the faded wood shake roof on my Rockrimmon home with fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood.

    We thanked our crew with pizza and beer for their work.

    But I also need to thank a former neighbor, Randy Murrish, who did some heavy lifting of his own that contributed greatly to my new sense of tranquility.

    For us, it was a simple process. My wife, Cary, researched all the roofing options available, selected a style and color of asphalt shingle and submitted our decision to the homeowners association, which waved it through without comment. (Waved it, that is, after they smacked down her inquiry about a smooth steel roof common in ski towns. Our HOA was having none of that nonsense!)

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake..

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake.

    The new roof is something we’d wanted to do since we bought the house. It was 1997 and the massive Buffalo Creek wildfire west of Denver a year earlier was fresh on our minds.

    But short of cash — a theme in my life — we prayed for a hail storm. But hail rarely came and when it did that dang wood shake was just too tough to destroy.

    I remember being frustrated when hail damaged neighbors’ homes and their insurance companies agreed to pay. That was the case in 2000 with my neighbor Randy.

    “My cedar shake shingles were crumbling,” he recalled. “Then we had a hail storm and I convinced my insurance company to pay half.”

    Randy was further motivated by a major wildfire in New Mexico that year and the Hi Meadow fire near Denver.

    “I saw the devastation,” he said. “I knew it was just a matter of time before it happened in Colorado Springs.”

    But when Randy researched the covenants of our Raven Hills Homeowners Association, he learned they mandated cedar shake. (It’s amazing, frankly, that no one saw the inherent risk of having kindling as the chief protection for your home. Especially in a region with so many lightning strikes and wildfires.)

    A few neighbors had persuaded our HOA’s architectural control committee, or ACC, to allow concrete tile roofing materials. But when he studied them, Randy learned they were too heavy for our homes.

    “The houses that had them, their roofs dipped in the middle because of the weight,” he said.

    So he put together a 20-page proposal to the ACC to justify using asphalt shingles. He had photos of the shingles on million-dollar homes in nearby Peregrine. And he submitted letters from real estate agents who said the shingles did not hurt home values.

    Randy even analyzed the improvements asphalt offered in fire safety, cost and durability.

    “I did a complete presentation,” Randy said. “But before I got home that night, they already voted me down.”

    (We wrote about his fight with the HOA in 2000 as he tried to install the first asphalt shingle roof in our neighborhood.)

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake..

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake.

    So he grudgingly replaced his roof with wood shingles treated with fire retardant. Randy did something else, as well. He vowed to change the rules.

    Already, Boulder had banned wood shake roofs in 1994 and other cities followed. Colorado Springs didn’t ban new wood shake roofs until October 2002, after the Hayman fire. But many HOAs were reluctant to allow asphalt shingles, forcing homeowners to install expensive cement and coated-steel roofs.

    So Randy got himself elected to the ACC. It took a couple years, but eventually rules were changed and now asphalt shingles protect houses throughout Raven Hills.

    (In fairness, our HOA was no different from many others. And wood shake roofs remain common across the region. In fact, they were mandated by covenants in Mountain Shadows and are blamed spreading the Waldo Canyon fire on several streets.)

    I called Randy, who now lives in Seattle, to tell him we were thinking about him.

    I told him he’d been right all along. As he had feared all those years ago, wildfire did visit the Colorado Springs area, horribly, last summer and again this year.

    The Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires finally scared me enough to choke down the cost of a new roof.

    It’s such a comfort, actually, that now we’re thinking of covering our wood siding with brick or stucco.

    But without people like Randy willing to speak out and fight, I might be writing a much different column, about aesthetics clouding good judgment. It would have been a lot harder for us to finally rid our home of its rotting and cracked wood shingles.

    Instead, replacing our roof with attractive, common-sense materials was a breeze — except for writing a check with lots of zeroes on it.

    So, for that, I thank you Randy.

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resememble wood shake..

    A crew of six worked all weekend to strip cedar wood shake shingles from the roof of Gazette Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin. The rotting, cracked shingles, seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, photo, were replaced by fire retardant, impact resistant, rubberized asphalt shingles made to resemble wood shake.

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  • Mountain Shadows rises year after horrific blaze

    Wed, June 26, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Mark Reese, left, and Mike Hausman stand on the deck of Reese's new home in Mountain Shadows on June 22, 2013.

    Mark Reese, left, and Mike Hausman stand on the deck of Reese’s new home in Mountain Shadows on June 22, 2013.

    The day after the Black Forest fire erupted June 11, Mike Hausman and Mark Reese stood on Wilson Road high atop Mountain Shadows and looked at a billowing plume of white and black smoke churning from what would become the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.

    Both men shook their heads.

    They spoke of the charred dreams that would be left behind when the clouds of smoke and ash lifted. They talked of the devastation awaiting Black Forest residents returning to their homes and the surrounding landscape. They shuddered at the thought of the months and years to come rebuilding.

    “It’s just such a tragedy,” Hausman said, as Reese nodded agreement.

    Hausman and Reese know well what they were talking about.

    On June 26, 2012, residents of Mountain Shadows found themselves confronting a tornado of fire that flew down the foothills, killing 2, destroying 347 homes and forcing the evacuation of 32,000.

    On June 26, 2012, residents of Mountain Shadows found themselves confronting a tornado of fire that flew down the foothills, killing 2, destroying 347 homes and forcing the evacuation of 32,000.

    Reese lost his home one year ago, June 26, when the Waldo Canyon fire exploded down the foothills in a tornado of fire and smoke that hurled burning embers into Mountain Shadows, igniting pines and scrub oak and 1980s-era houses with their wood shake roofs and cedar siding.

    The inferno was visible for miles and to millions of television viewers nationwide who watched in disbelief as home after home erupted in flames and cars exploded amid the 2,500-degree heat.

    Before winds died and allowed firefighters to go on the offensive, the Waldo Canyon fire had killed two, destroyed 347 homes and forever changed how we look at fire. At its peak, 32,000 people were evacuated in an apocalyptic scene that saw six lanes of traffic streaming out of the foothills in a desperate attempt to get across Interstate 25.

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    Millions watched on television nationwide June 26, 2012, as Mountain Shadows was incinerated by the inferno known as the Waldo Canyon fire.

    In terms of structures lost, it was the worst wildfire in Colorado history … until the Black Forest fire came along and killed two, destroyed 511 homes and consumed 14,280 acres.

    Reese knows all about the terror of evacuation, accepting the loss of his home, the frustration of dealing with insurance and finally the decision of whether to move or rebuild.

    Reese and his wife, Joanie, decided to rebuild, joining about half the residents in returning to the foothills neighborhood. As of June 25,
    the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department has issued 200 rebuilding permits for Mountain Shadows. Most were filed by original owners, though some are not.

    The Reeses are among 78 families who have been issued certificates of occupancy for their new homes. When we met June 12, the Reeses were still getting settled in their new home, moving furniture and working on their landscaping. It’s a beautiful place, built with “ignition-resistant materials” under strict new building codes designed to prevent a repeat of the 2012 tragedy.

    Shockingly, some Mountain Shadows residents stayed behind despite evacuation orders while others snuck in to film the inferno on June 26, 2012.

    Shockingly, some Mountain Shadows residents stayed behind despite evacuation orders while others snuck in to film the inferno on June 26, 2012.

    Hausman knows what Black Forest fire victims face from a different perspective. He is chief financial officer of Campbell Homes, which rebuilt the Reeses’ home on Wilson Road. Hausman also has the perspective of someone who built a community only to watch it burn and now struggle to rebuild.

    Turns out, Hausman built Mountain Shadows. Not every house. But he and his family transformed it from a cattle ranch into a residential community.

    And Hausman was still clearly a bit stunned at his own role in the whole Mountain Shadows story.

    As he was researching Mountain Shadows covenants, Hausman was startled to see a familiar signature at the bottom of the 25-year-old documents that govern life and dictate building materials, paint colors, landscaping and more in the subdivision on Colorado Springs’ west edge.

    “I had signed them myself,” said Hausman, 64. “I was kind of surprised to see my own signature.”

    Most of 347 homes in Mountain Shadows destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire were reduced to ash and concrete foundations after the June 26, 2012, fire roared into the westside Colorado Springs neighborhood.

    Most of 347 homes in Mountain Shadows destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire were reduced to ash and concrete foundations after the June 26, 2012, fire roared into the westside Colorado Springs neighborhood.

    It brought back memories of a different time when he was leading a different company.

    It was 1977, when he was managing partner of Ridge Development Co., a partnership of 11 brothers and sisters based in Pueblo who had grown up in the development and construction business.

    At the time, Hausman said he learned that the Wilson Ranch was for sale and he began negotiations with Don Wilson and his son-in-law, Russ Wolfe, for the rolling ranchland that climbed into the foothills.

    “It was a reasonably complex negotiation,” Hausman recalled. “Don Wilson was elderly, and I dealt mostly with Russ Wolfe.”

    Perhaps complicating the deal was the fact it wasn’t something Wilson really wanted. He was very attached to the land that he bought in 1947 when it was known as the Douglas Homestead.

    Chuckwagon dinners replaced cattle as the primary source of income at the Flying W Ranch.

    Chuckwagon dinners replaced cattle as the primary source of income at the Flying W Ranch.

    He eventually, reluctantly agreed to sell to Hausman and his family.

    It took a year to complete the purchase of 1,837 acres in a deal worth about
    $10 million, Hausman said. The family kept about 800 acres for the tourist business and their private homes.

    It took another year of work by landscape architects and lawyers and others for the project to take shape.

    Almost immediately he sold 230 acres to developers of Oak Valley Ranch on the north end of the ranch. And he sold 60 acres to a company that would build the high-tech campus now occupied by Verizon.

    Then Hausman spent the next 15 years or so leading Ridge as it developed Mountain Shadows into “A Place to Live,” as its early slogan beckoned.

    “It was a magnificent piece of property,” Hausman said. “The concept was to make the development fit the
    topography.”

    Marian and Russ Wolfe in promotional photos for the Flying W Ranch in the 1950s.

    Marian and Russ Wolfe in promotional photos for the Flying W Ranch in the 1950s.

    On Jan. 4, 1979, the City Planning Commission approved its master plan for Mountain Shadows where Ridge intended to build 6,310 homes for 18,000 residents along with four elementary schools and a junior high. It envisioned town homes and apartments and commercial development, as well, on streets named “Wilson” and “Chuckwagon” and “Flying W Ranch” among others.

    In December 1980, Ridge launched phase one of the project for 100 homes on 50 acres. The initial homes would range from $80,000 to $200,000. And the list of builders included 16 prominent companies including familiar names such as Bach Development Co./Steve Bach Homes as well as Cullen, Gendron and Veitch.

    The initial projections for homes and population were never met, and retired city planner James Mayerl knows why. He recalled that interest rates in the late 1970s were double-digit and money was harder to borrow.

    The Flying W Ranch in a 1960s file photo.

    The Flying W Ranch in a 1960s file photo.

    But as Ridge broke ground on new subdivisions and interest rates dropped in the mid-1980s, plans changed.

    “Buying a house became easier,” Mayerl said. “As interest rates went down, they changed the master plan to eliminate much of the higher-density town homes and condos. It was market-driven response.”

    He said many of the buyers were young families who wanted large, two-story homes. And they became the norm. Erin McCauley, a current city planner, said she’s noticing a trend among those rebuilding in Mountain Shadows that is just the opposite.

    “A lot of ranch homes are being built,” she said. “The people who were 30 then are 60 now. They want homes without stairs. They want to downsize. They don’t want two stories.”

    In fact, that’s exactly the situation with the house Hausman’s company rebuilt this year for the Reeses on Wilson Road.

    “We were thinking about selling the lot and moving,” Mark Reese said. “Then we saw a Campbell floor plan that was perfect for us. I’ve been in construction for years. My knees aren’t so hot anymore. We wanted all one-level living. It worked out really sweet.”

    A year later, the Waldo Canyon fire is the subject of an exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. It includes items like this charred street sign at the center of the burn zone.

    A year later, the Waldo Canyon fire is the subject of an exhibit at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. It includes items like this charred street sign at the center of the burn zone.

    Reese said that when they bought their home 15 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of concern about wildfire.

    Mayerl said it wasn’t really on anyone’s radar when the subdivision was launched. New building codes about building density and defensible space in hillside areas didn’t take shape until the early 1990s incorporating lessons learned in a massive Oakland, Calif., hillside fire.

    Hausman said he doesn’t recall any talk of wildfire threat.

    That’s one reason the review of those 25-year-old covenants was so jarring. Hausman never dreamed they would play a key role in the destruction brought by the Waldo Canyon fire. But consider this Gazette-Telegraph story from 1987 touting Mountain Shadows construction rules.

    “Covenants will require native-type building materials such as shake shingles, cedar siding,” the story said. “Landscaping, too, will be required to follow the natural foothill terrain hosting scrub oak, pinons and native grasses.”

    Temperatures generated by the Waldo Canyon fire were so hot the glass on this picture melted inside a home in Mountain Shadows.

    Temperatures generated by the Waldo Canyon fire were so hot the glass on this picture melted inside a home in Mountain Shadows.

     

    Of course, wood shake roofs are now illegal to build in Colorado Springs. And all new homes, like the one Hausman’s company built for the Reeses, must meet strict building codes including Class A roofing materials, ignition-resistant materials instead of wood decking, stucco instead of wood siding among other requirements.

    Hausman can hardly believe what he watched a year ago along with everyone else when the Waldo Canyon fire exploded.

    “What a tragedy,” he said repeatedly. “The loss of life. The people who lost everything but what they had on their backs. The old-growth vegetation that was lost. The trees we planted — more than 1,000 ourselves as well as all the homeowners who were required to plant two evergreens and other trees.”

    And those covenants he was proud of and was sure would guarantee a beautiful, high-quality subdivision for years to come?

    Museum 043“One of the obvious things is the shake shingle roofs,” he said. “They were very much in vogue at the time. Turns out that was one of the things that caused a lot of properties to start on fire easily. I always loved them. I thought they were beautiful.”

    His voice trailed off.

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    A HISTORY OF
    MOUNTAIN SHADOWS

    Before it was among the most desirable neighborhoods in town, Mountain Shadows was known as the Douglas Homestead, a rolling ranch that stretched from Douglas Creek on the west side of Popes Bluff into the foothills and the edge of the Pike National Forest.

    Don Wilson, with his wife, Minnie, bought the ranch — about 2,500 acres — in 1947. They relocated from Kansas with their daughter, Marietta, accompanied by daughter Marian and her husband, Russ Wolfe.

    The Flying W Ranch in an undated file photo.

    The Flying W Ranch in an undated file photo.

    Together they created the Flying W Ranch, raised Hereford cattle as well as registered quarterhorses on the spread.

    Eventually, Marietta married Gene Reed, who took over the horse business while Wolfe concentrated on the cattle and his growing chuckwagon dinner business for tourists seeking an authentic ranch experience.

    By 1953, their focus shifted mainly to tourism as the cattle market waned.

    By the 1970s, the Flying W Ranch was famous nationwide for its singing cowboy Wranglers, the Old West town Wolfe built and its chuckwagon dinners.

    Meanwhile, houses were creeping west and the Flying W was at a crossroads.

    The cattle business — the original heart of the ranch — was jeopardizing the Flying W, Don Wilson told The Gazette-Telegraph in a 1984 interview.

    “There wasn’t anything I could do but sell the ranch,” said Wilson, who was 93 at the time. “I didn’t like the idea. But it got too expensive to operate. I wouldn’t have any money left to pay my income taxes if I didn’t sell. I really didn’t have much choice.”

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  • GET A LOOK AT A PET THAT BRINGS YOU BREAKFAST

    Fri, May 18, 2012 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Some are two story with panel doors and wood windows. One is solar-powered. Another is adobe. Several are split level. Virtually all are fenced.

    And all of them are open for visitors this weekend if you want to take a peek!

    It’s not a springtime Parade of Homes. It’s the third-annual 2012 Take a Peak Chicken Coop Tour.

    This weekend, about 20 coops from Black Forest to Manitou Springs to downtown Colorado Springs will be open for viewing.

    Anyone interested in raising chickens is invited to take the free, self-guided tour and learn how to start your own coop.

    The tour was the idea of “chickenman” John Conner.

    “A couple ladies I worked with got interested in keeping chickens and came over and saw my coop,” John said. “Then they said they’d like to see more.”

    So he arranged for a dozen or so folks with chickens to allow folks to see their coops. That was 2010.

    “The first year, we had 80 people show,” he said. “Last year, I lost count after 120.”

    And that was with mininal advertising.

    This year John’s not sure what to expect. He hopes people will learn how easy it is to raise chickens.

    “They are pets that give you breakfast,” John said with a laugh.

    He started raising them about five years ago and now has five birds. He said they are quiet and no more work than a big dog.

    “You have to clean up after them and feed them,” he said. “But they don’t go outside and start barking. They may cluck, but you won’t hear them.”

    John created a CoopTourDirectory_2012_draft_2 for tour. It’s 22 pages of photos and tips about raising chickens.

    I was intrigued at elaborate coops some build.

    John’s coop, at his Shooks Run neighborhood home, is solar-powered with panels on the roof.

    Another fellow made his coop out of “cob.”

    “Basically, it’s mud and straw,” John said. “And tree limbs and things.”

    Then there’s a coop in Black Forest on wheels.

    Coops on the tour range from basic plywood to elaborate structures disguised as small cottages or playhouses.

    There are a few rules for tour-goers. Don’t bring pets. Don’t scare the chickens. And some coops will only be open for limited times during the weekend.

    John also provides information on Colorado Springs codes. For example, residents can have 10 chickens but no roosters in the city. And chicken coop poop must be picked up every few days and kept in a sealed container.

    Basic stuff.

    Follow this link if you want a  CoopTourMaps_2012, of print one off at John’s website. Or just drop by his house 712 N. Cedar Street east of downtown.

    A pet that gives you breakfast, huh? My dog won’t even get me the morning paper!

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  • TAKE A HISTORICAL TOUR OF BLACK FOREST

    Sat, September 18, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Folks in Black Forest are proud of the unique, unincorporated community north of Colorado Springs where they live. It’s 100 square miles of hills, Ponderosa pines and meadows.

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    Some are so proud the Black Forest History Committee put together a DVD, booklet and map of the Forest and its history.

    I found it fascinating. Of course, it starts with Gen. William Jackson Palmer, the entrepreneur who came here after the Civil War, built Colorado Springs, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and just about everything else around.

    Of course, his growing town and railroad needed lumber so, in 1870, he bought 43,000 acres in the Forest and started chopping down trees. Soon, there were 16 sawmills turning pines in railroad ties and construction materials.

    Before they were through, the original forest was wiped out.

    When the loggers left, pioneers remained and started building their community.

    That’s where the DVD really gets interesting. When it starts talking about the people who stayed and the changes the area went through before it became one big suburb.

    For example, it tells about Oliver Shoup, a sawmill executive who ended up governor of Colorado. A main east-west road is named in his honor.

    There’s a story of the black, tufted-ear Abert squirrels seen commonly in the forest.

    Did you know fox were raised in the Forest, until a U.S. trade agreement with Russia flooded the market with cheap furs and the industry collapsed? The exotic fox raised here were simply turned loose. They mated and produced some of the odd-color fox now seen in the region.

    You’ll also learn about the people who settled in Black Forest and helped make it the place it is today such as beloved teacher Edith Wolford.

    And then there are the photos, like those on this page. There is a story behind each.

    The DVDs are $15. If you want to buy the one, contact Tery Stokka, of the history committee, at 495-0895 or email him at tstokka@juno.com. Proceeds support the committee and the Black Forest Community Center.

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  • FISH MARKET STINKS UP NEIGHBORHOOD

    Sun, August 22, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

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    There’s something rotten on top of  West Bijou Street and neighbors say it is stinking up the neighborhood.

    The vacant building has been several restaurants since it was built in 1989. According to a 2006 Gazette story, it opened in 1990 as Chicago Joe’s and was owned by SpecialtyRestaurants of Anaheim, Calif.

     The company also owns the Sunbird restaurant on a hillside overlooking Rusina Road and I-25 in Pinecliff, north of Garden of the Gods Road.

    The Bijou Street building was known in it’s last incarnation as the Fish Market, the name it still bears.

    It was a popular place to sit, eat and enjoy panoramic views of downtown Colorado Springs. You can see it in the center of this image from FlashEarth.

    But today, those views are only visible through holes punched in plywood and jagged shards of broken glass. The restaurant closed for renovation in 2001 and never reopened.

    Today, the Fish Market is more of a drug market patronized by homeless and vandals who use it as a place to flop and party. Its interior has been gutted by thieves who stripped its wiring to sell for its copper value. Most of the windows have been broken.

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    Colorado Springs Code Enforcement Administrator Ken Lewis, below, surveyed the damage on Friday as he and his assistant, Mark Davis, hauled out trash, painted graffiti and boarded windows.

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    The property was bought in May 2008 by the Pinery, a wedding and events center in Black Forest. Its owners paid $1.75 million and announced plans for a $7 million wedding and events facility on the site.

    The nation’s economy cratered before they could get financing and the project has stalled ever since.

    Eric Allen, vice president of operations at the Pinery, said the project remains alive. Eventually, it will be a huge asset to the neighborhood, he said.

    In the meantime, Allen promised to ensure the building is secured and the site patrolled by security to reduce the vandalism and dissuade the vagrants attracted to the building.

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  • NATIONAL NIGHT OUT: Make a friend, protect yourself

    Sun, August 1, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Pop quiz: Name the first line of defense against neighborhood crime.

    Answer: Residents, of course.

    Police constantly urge folks to keep an eye on their neighborhoods.

    Look for suspicious people and vehicles.

    Jot down license plates and descriptions.

    Call police and alert your neighbors.

    When it comes to citizen/police cooperation in crime fighting, Tuesday is the biggest night of the year.

    It’s the annual National Night Out when neighbors are urged to turn on their porch lights, go out and meet their neighbors.

    Dozens of Naitonal Night Out events are planned around Colorado Springs and in the communities surrounding the city from Monument to Black Forest to Falcon to Stratmoor Hills and Security/Widefield.

    Many events involve barbecues and games.

    It’s a great chance to make friends, eat a hot dog or burger, and in many neighborhoods meet and talk to police officers or El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies who attend National Night Out neighborhood events.

    ‘The event has an interesting history and is closely associated with the Neighborhood Watch program and the National Association of Town Watch.

    Check this link for information about Neighborhood Watch from Colorado Springs Police.

    Here’s a good place to start if you want to learn more about the national Neighborhood Watch program.

    I’ve written about Neighborhood Watch in the past. Here’s a link to a previous story and the blog that went with it.

  • SKI LANE — rural/urban conflict at its worst

    Sun, December 6, 2009 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     Cumbre Vista is a new subdivision, recently annexed onto the northeast edge of Colorado Springs, where about 60 new houses have been built along with streets, curbs and sidewalks, a neighborhood park with gazebo and ballfield.

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     Below is a map of the subdivision from the El Paso County Assessor’s Website. The dark areas on map are part of Colorado Springs. The white areas are part of unincorporated El Paso County.

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     The new neighborhood looks like many others scattered around Colorado Springs with one exception. It features a 12-foot cliff.

     The cliff was built by developer Infinity Land Corp. when it decided to obliterate Ski Lane, a country road that existed since 1956.

     There is a legal question whether it was a deeded right-of-way or simple easement.

    Here’s how Ski Lane looked before it was destroyed. The lane ran left to right, atop the little hill in this view facing west. The gravel road coming toward the camera on the left was Sorpresa Lane. The gravel road on the right was created by construction of Cumbre Vista.

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     Here’s how it looked after construction began. The developer simply cut down the hill, leaving Ski Lane hanging.

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      The cliff made it virtually impossible for the handful of county residents who live on the south end of Ski Lane to use their historic northern route out of the neighborhood toward Black Forest.

     In fact, it took intervention by City Planner Larry Larsen to get the ugly hairpin curve built at the base and side of the cliff, to restore a reasonable access to Ski Lane.

     Here’s the ugly “solution” to the cliff. Larsen said it was the best the city could do given the lack of cooperation from the two sides.

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      Here’s a link to a blog I wrote about the mess in October 2008.

      The cliff and the hairpin curve are considered temporary. Eventually, Ski Lane will be lowered to link to the new subdivision streets. The only question seems to be when it will occur. Eventually, all the unincorporated land around Ski Lane will be developed and swallowed by the city.

     Will the residents have to live with it until they die or move? Or will a pending lawsuit force the developer and Woodmen Heights Metro District to compensate them for their loss?

     They are gambling on the court but don’t want Colorado Springs City Hall to jeopardize their chances by accepting Cumbre Vista officially from the developer. They fear the court would view that action as approval of the way they were treated.

     They made those arguments a few weeks ago before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission. Commissioners took turns criticizing the way neighbors were treated. But ultimately they approved the plat, calling it a private legal matter.

     To get in and out of Ski Lane, residents must negotiate an ugly, eroding hairpin curve onto Sorpresa Lane and go through Cumbre Vista, which sits on 115 acres south of Cottonwood Creek near Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard.

     The neighbors’ effort is being led by Bill and Maureen Marchant. In their lawsuit, the neighbors say they have a deeded right of way that dates to 1956 which guarantees them northern access route. They say the developer cannot simply move or eliminate that right-of-way.

     A few weeks ago they went before the Colorado Springs Planning Commission urging them not to approve the plat. Neighbors planned to appeal to the City Council on Tuesday. But late last week Larsen withdrew his approval of the plat, citing an issue with the deed. Maybe there’s still time for the district to settle the issue and turn the ski jump back into country lane.

     I’m guessing resolution will involve checks to residents with several zeroes on the end. Or Cumbre Vista will feature a cliff that may make residents wonder what kind of subdivision they really live in.