‘We Came Back to a Very Broken Neighborhood’

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4min 42sec

Parkside resident Mike Finkbiner was a roofing contractor during the original construction of the Colorado Springs subdivision, and says Mountain Shadows as a whole was "pretty well planned" when it was built in the 1980s.  It wasn't until 2002 that he moved into the community, and then to a different home in Parkside in 2005.

Though his house wasn't among the nearly 350 destroyed in the Waldo Canyon Fire, he was evacuated.  "It was almost surreal, because it looked like a Hollywood movie set," he remembers. 

"We heard the fire department say 'Majestic is gone.' So we ... knew that was not going to be good."

On that night of June 26, 2012, Finkbiner says he was watching the fire from a ridge on the Kissing Camels golf course, "and we could hear propane bottles exploding, from even up there."  Using Chipita Elementary as a reference point, he could tell Parkside was in trouble. 

He also recalls listening to a scanner.  "And we heard the fire department say 'Majestic is gone,'" he says.  "So we kind of knew that was not going to be good."

He and around nine other evacuees were staying in southwest Colorado Springs, and he remembers they all sat around talking about the fire and what it meant.  "We kind of got some unofficial reports of whose houses had burned," he says.  "I actually knew at about 4:00 in the morning on Wednesday that my house had not burned.  I was pretty fortunate." 

Finkbiner says the group was able to comfort and support each other through the night.

"We came back to a very very broken neighborhood," he says.

"We have to get this back on track and try to do it as quickly and as sensitive as we can to everybody."

Being in the building industry, Finkbiner remembers jumping into that mode right away.  "I knew the job that was going to be out ahead of us on the rebuild," he says, and he began thinking about who they would need to contact and what resources they would need.

His house survived; others didn't.  Finkbiner recalls going out to walk at night just to see how badly houses were burned.  "Really, everything was damaged to the point where all that was left was, literally, maybe two brick pillars by either side of the garage and maybe an electrical mast sticking out of the ground… and just piles of ashes at every house.  Piles of ashes."

More than a dozen builders were involved in rebuilding Parkside, and Finkbiner called it a big job.  He also notes that up to 50% of residents did not come back to Parkside.  He attributes it to the number of retirees who lived there, people who had bought homes in the 80s.  "All their memories are just gone," he says.  "I think it was just too hard for them to come back, because they really weren't coming back to their home.  It would have been a new deal."

Finkbiner says it wasn't until December of 2012, when he was pulling out holiday decorations, that he had much of an emotional response to the fire.  "Well I still have [the lights]," he recalls thinking, "but they don't have any of that stuff anymore." 

"I think it's pretty amazing when people do come together what we can accomplish, because we've really accomplished a lot in five years."

Still, for him, a lot of it was purely practical—how to rebuild.  "We have to get this back on track and try to do it as quickly and as sensitive as we can to everybody."

He gives a lot of credit to the building community.  "Everybody kind of paints them as a picture where they just want profits," he says.  "But they really were concerned about getting this community back, and having it be something that all of us could be proud of, and also being respectful of people that lost everything."

Finkbiner says it's amazing what people can accomplish when they come together and, "we've really accomplished a lot in five years." 

Listen to the story from Mike Finkbiner in the player above.

This story comes from 91.5 KRCC's special series, "Five Years Later: Remembering the Waldo Canyon Fire." Find more stories from those affected by the fire here.