News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 28, 2012

VIDEO: ‘A firestorm of epic proportions’

Ex-Valley resident driven from home by wildfire

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Lorna Taken Gutierrez and her family live in a home with “an amazing mountain view” in Colorado Springs.

But on Tuesday, the view from her home turned Armageddon-like as she saw a wildfire racing down a bluff and taking everything — including beautiful homes — in its path.

“It was a horrible thing,” said Gutierrez, a former Terre Haute and Clay County resident. “It was a tsunami of fire.”

And, the inferno was coming toward the Gutierrez home, located in Pinon Valley in the northwest part of the city — close to the devastated Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

The family had about five minutes to pack and leave — Lorna, her husband Dimas, three children and Lorna’s mother-in-law, who was visiting from Venezuela. They also took their dog.

As of Wednesday afternoon, they were en route to Clay County to be with family. Gutierrez didn’t know if their Colorado Springs home had been spared — or destroyed. “We’ve had conflicting reports,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “No one can get there.”

There was also the possibility that her husband’s place of employment had burned. He is a software engineer.

“My heart is broken,” Gutierrez wrote on her Facebook page. They have lived in Colorado Springs for about seven years.

“I’ve alternated between tears and relief that we are out” and safe, she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I’m crying for everyone who has lost everything and praying that no one has lost their life.”

Before the family left Colorado Springs, they went to the east side of town to eat. As they looked toward the west and the area they had just fled, “Fire was everywhere and smoke and ash,” she said. They could see the fire spread and “these gorgeous houses being wiped out.”

The family lives on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, with Garden of the Gods to the south and the U.S. Air Force Academy to the north.

One reason they decided to leave was because the “air quality is terrible” — the result of all the smoke. They were concerned about the health of the family, which includes two young children, Adriana, age 4 and Eli, 21 months. Eli had respiratory problems when he was younger.

Gutierrez’ husband left work early Tuesday. “He could feel the wind picking up and he had a feeling we would have to evacuate,” she said. On Tuesday, wind gusts reached 65 mph, causing the fires to rage out of control.

For now, the future for the Gutierrez family is somewhat uncertain. “I don’t know what we will do. I don’t know if we can go back or if we have a place to go back to,” she said. They were in the process of selling their home and purchasing a new one in the same area.

If necessary, her husband could transfer out-of-state.

But they really like Colorado Springs and hope to return. “It is a beautiful city,” said Gutierrez, a former Tribune-Star reporter and Indiana State University student.

Gutierrez has maintained close contact with her mother, Becky Taken, of Brazil. “It’s been a nightmare,” said Taken, who eagerly awaited her family’s safe arrival.

The Gutierrez’ house is about six miles east of Waldo Canyon, where one official on Tuesday night described the wildfire as “a firestorm of epic proportions,” according to one media report.

The Waldo Canyon fire had forced more than 32,000 people out of their homes and destroyed an unknown number of structures. By Wednesday, the fire had grown to more than 15,000 acres.

President Barack Obama is expected to visit the devastated city Friday.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.