Betty and Art Annecharico lived in their house just off U.S. 36 in Boulder County for about 25 years. On Saturday, they had about 15 minutes to leave it as the Calwood fire tore through the area.
And on Monday, they learned that the house has been burned to the ground. According to the Boulder County Sheriff Office’s preliminary list of damaged property, the house is a total loss. Betty Annecharico said so is her daughter Cindi Grant’s car. She was there to help her parents pack up and get out safely.
“We left with basically what was on our back and a few things of paperwork and that's about it,” Annecharico said.
She said they drove through flames to get out of her neighborhood, the Mountain Ridge subdivision — where 16 homes burned down. About two dozen total structures have been destroyed in the Calwood fire, according to the sheriff’s office. Annecharico said a friend in the sheriff’s office took pictures of where her house once stood, but she and her husband won’t be able to see the wreckage themselves yet.
“They told us that might be a couple of days because it's still hot, but just seeing the pictures, it makes it a reality,” she said. “I'm 77. He's 79. We never expected this time in our life to have to start over again.”
Resident Andrew Ainslie said the neighborhood to the south of Mountain Ridge has largely been spared. On Monday, he was standing on Nelson Road in Boulder County, just east of the Lake of the Pines development where he lives. He said he could see from the road that his house was still standing, and he credits the firefighting crews.
“They laid a long streak of fire retardant, south to north, just right above our houses,” he said. “The whole of Lake of the Pines looks to be in good shape. If it hadn't been for those aircraft dropping retardant, we'd all be gone.”
The Calwood fire ignited on Saturday and quickly grew to 8,788 acres by Sunday afternoon, just as another fire took off in Boulder County. The Lefthand Canyon and Calwood fires have put residents on edge — and pushed them to pack up their belongings, as a precaution or because of mandatory orders.
Marian Hejl said people who live on the mountain just know to take precautions, even if evacuation orders are voluntary. She and her husband didn’t even wait for the pre-evacuation orders to start getting their two young daughters, three dogs, two cats and a lizard ready to leave.
“When you live in the mountains for a long enough, you kind of learn not to wait to be told, to know what's important and to get out as fast as you can,” she said. “Because as hard as it is to leave something you love so much, a house can be replaced. So, we didn't wait.”
Knowing what to do, however, doesn’t make the situation any easier, Hejl said.
“It's crazy having your whole entire house — everything that's important to you — packed into two vehicles,” she said. “It's kind of a surreal experience.”
Heji took wedding memorabilia, pictures and crocheted gifts from her great aunt. She said they grabbed just the things that can’t be replaced, but the one thing she said that couldn’t be replaced is not something they could fit in the two cars they loaded: the wilderness around her house.
“There's just a lot of memories, not just in the house, but the forest behind it. I think that one of the hardest things with forest fires is you don't just lose a structure, you lose the environment and the habitat. It takes decades for trees to grow back,” she said.
Other evacuees from the Lefthand Canyon and Calwood fires reported having just minutes to get out and watching the flames approach as they rushed to leave.
Lu Cordova saw the smoke from her back porch and assumed that it was the massive fire burning west of Fort Collins — the Cameron Peak fire, which has burned a record 204,404 acres in the two months since it started. She said she was able to grab some artwork and leave her home on Saturday as evacuation orders expanded around the Calwood fire.
“You could actually see the edges of the flame moving towards you. And if the wind shifted, I knew we would only have minutes,” she said.
As of Monday night, none of the evacuation orders has been lifted. The Calwood fire has burned 9,106 acres and is 17 percent contained. And the Lefthand Canyon fire has burned 386 acres and is 4 percent contained. Wind with gusts between 35-45 mph is expected in the areas for the next two days.
In the meantime, all the evacuees who don’t know the fate of their home, like Hejl, just wait.
“We're constantly looking for updates on the wind direction and growth and the burn patterns and just looking at pictures on social media to see, ‘Oh, is that our roof? Or is that our hillside?’ So it's, it's been a very intense weekend for us,” she said.
Ultimately she just hopes that everyone will stay safe.
“It's really hard to lose your house, but the people are more important,” she said.
CPR reporter Natalia Navarro contributed to this report.