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Banding Together

The Marshall and Middle Fork fires affected thousands of Boulder County residents. Hundreds of homes and businesses were lost, but the community showed its true colors and came together to support one another.

Article by Cassidy Ritter

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

A House Saved

On December 30, fires roared through parts of Boulder County, destroying hundreds of houses and damaging several businesses. When a blanket of snow helped simmer the flames, families slowly returned to assess the damage. In a small neighborhood, one house is said to be saved by an angel. 

Yvonne Gates’ home was one of the few still standing in the Panorama Park neighborhood damaged by the Marshall Fire. 

Yvonne, who’s in her late 60s, built this home for her family in 2012 and prior to the fire lived there with her husband, daughter, granddaughter, grandson and dog. She, along with her neighbors, evacuated the area not knowing when they could return or what they would find when they did. A few days later, Yvonne’s prayers were answered. She received a text from her neighbors Dave and Patti Hoag with a picture showing that her house was one of the few still intact. “I cried,” she says. 

She says it’s a blessing that her home is still standing while the rest of her community is full of debris and charred trees. Yvonne says her home was saved by her son Brian Turner who died in August, just four months prior to the Boulder fires. 

“I love this house. He knew that I loved this house. This is the third house that I’ve built for our family, but I love this one the most. So I just said it was him looking over us because he knew how much I loved it,” she says. “We just felt it was Brian who was looking out for us.”

The last thing Yvonne and her family needed was to lose the home where memories of Brian lived on, especially the kitchen where he was teaching his mom the skills he learned in culinary school. 

“I don’t know if I could have rebuilt the house if anything had happened. I just don’t think I could have,” she says. “It would have been tough losing him and then losing the house.” 

For now, the Gates family is dispersed living in hotels and with friends until it is safe to return home. Yvonne says she hopes to move back in February once smoke damage, windows and doors are repaired. Nonetheless, she is counting her blessings and gearing to give back to her neighborhood and community.

“We have a close-knit neighborhood,” she says. “My goal is to do whatever I can to help my friends and neighbors to rebuild.”

When Yvonne built her home in Boulder nearly 10 years ago, she served as the general contractor on the project—a role she will now take on to help some of those around her rebuild.

She says several seniors lived along the two streets that made up her neighborhood and some don’t have insurance they need to rebuild. So, she’s putting together a team of general contractors, builders and others in the construction industry to assist these seniors and the neighbors she calls her extended family to restore their homes. 

“I look at Boulder as a community where people love and care for our neighbors and that's what I want them to know. We are a community who care about our neighbors and that's why I love it here so much,” she says.

If you’re interested in helping rebuild this neighborhood, please contact Yvonne at yvonnegates@comcast.net.

The Tarves Family

It was a vacation they’ll never forget. The Tarves family left on Christmas Day for Cabo, and after five days of paradise and one day before their return home, the family of seven caught wind of fires roaring through their hometown. 

“My kids said, ‘Mom, there’s a fire in Louisville. I think it’s spreading really fast. There are crazy winds,’” Meadow Tarves says. “So, we got on Twitter, we got on social media, and just tried to see where the fire might be. We found out that way that people started evacuating.”

Shortly after, their friend sent a video from their backyard of billowing smoke in the area, confirming the fire was headed toward their home. When the Tarves family heard that a hotel near their home was on fire, they assumed the worst. 

“At that point, we kind of all said we think our house is burned down,” Meadow says. “We feel fortunate that we weren't there, but it was really eerie watching it from afar and not knowing and just relying on our phones.”

Thankfully, their friend and dogs made it out of the neighborhood safely, but the Tarves family lost their possessions and home—one they purchased just last March. 

Adding to the devastation, Meadow also lost her five-year-old business, Youthbar, to the fire.  

When the family returned to Colorado on December 31, they weren’t sure what to expect and/or what to do next. But their family, friends and coworkers came together to find a temporary place for the Tarves family to live in Broomfield. “We came home to a house full of food. My entire staff at Youthbar stocked the refrigerator full of food, even champagne for New Year's Eve,” Meadow says. “We just walked into a house full of love that had coats and clothes. My entire staff was like a family that we just fell into and the entire community outside of Youthbar donated to give us clothing and shelter.”

The Tarves family is working with insurance to decide next steps for their home and Meadow is currently looking for a new storefront in the area. In the meantime, she says she’s trusting her gut and hoping to find the right door to walk through. 

“There's something that happens when you have tragedy that I think sometimes when we sit down and think about other people's problems, we can't imagine being in their shoes but when you're going through them ... there's something, I don't know what to call it, that kicks in,” Meadow says. “We as humans are so much more capable of dealing with life than I think we give ourselves credit for. We're amazing creatures. There's not a sense of panic; I will tell you that. There's this resiliency.”

The family also had the opportunity to meet with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden who said they will support the Tarves family and all others impacted by these fires. 

Although the family is moving forward, Meadow says there’s still a sense of shock but also a sense of peace and comfort knowing the community is going through this together.

“I’m just excited to see what we can build back,” Meadow says. “There is a community behind us and I think that's the biggest thing I've realized through all of this. People want to help. People are good and we need each other.”

Banding Together

At 11:30 a.m. on December 30, Wis Holt received a call from a friend saying there was a fire in her area. She was aware of the Marshall and Middle Fork fires nearby, but little did she know a third fire had started in her neighborhood. 

When Wis opened her blinds, she saw her backyard was on fire. After calling 911 and packing up a few belongings, Wis and her two children began to evacuate. As they reached the driveway, a neighbor ran over and asked if she had any garden hoses to put out the flames. Knowing firefighters were busy trying to control two other fires in Boulder County, community members banded together to save the Fairview Estates neighborhood and surrounding pastures. 

Wis and her neighbor hooked the hoses up to her house, grabbed shovels full of dirt and started putting out the fire. “We started on our end, and I looked up and saw that there were probably eight people in the field across the street with a new horse barn over there. I could see that they were fighting the fire,” Wis says. “I could see it jumped over to the other side of Fairview Road to another house. And people started showing up to help.”

The fire at 76th Street and Fairview Road started when a tree fell on a powerline and caught fire, according to Wis. Winds ripped through the area, quickly pushing the flames east onto bushes, yards, pastures, a barn and a shed. “The winds literally pushed it directly between the two houses—ours and the neighbor directly behind us—and across the street and up the hill,” Wis says. “If the winds have gone any other direction, I don't think you'd have a house here. The winds played a big role.” 

Up the hill, to the east of Wis’ house, is where Kathryn Pancost and her father Scott Pancost first saw the flames. Scott went to work notifying owners of the pasture that a fire was in the area. He then used shovels and garden hoses to control and put out the fire while Kathryn called her uncle Ben Keeter for assistance.

“They said, ‘We've got to have help or we're going to lose everything,’” Ben says recalling the day. “I have a 4,000-gallon water truck with spray bars for construction so I said, ‘I will get it loaded.’ When I got there, there was a field burning and it kept going towards people's horses and stuff. I sprayed that as I came by. It was headed east so I went over and drove kind of into it and turned the spray bars on and just start spraying to keep it from going any further.”

As Ben drove into the fire all he could think about were “the people themselves and their lifelong possessions,” he says. “They lose everything in a fire; you don’t get it back.”

Ben refilled his water truck five or six times that day using between 20,000 and 24,000 gallons of water to put out the flames and spray surrounding lawns to prevent any additional fires from spreading to the area. It took about an hour to get the fire under control, but Wis and her neighbors stayed outside for hours making sure smoldering debris wasn’t going to spark again. 

In total about 20 neighbors, family members, coworkers and friends put out the flames protecting several homes, memories, possessions and animals. “There were a lot of heroes,” Ben says. “Everybody banded together. It was just neat that everybody worked together as a neighborhood effort. I think it’s pretty cool when something like that happens and the neighbors just help each other out. I don’t think there’s any one hero or anything; I think it’s a team effort.” 

At one point, a firetruck from Lafayette arrived on the scene to help put out a fire in a shed behind Wis’ house and returned later in the day to assess the damage and commend the neighborhood for their work. Although the shed was lost, firefighters saved Wis’ neighbors’ home and kept the fire from spreading further.

Wis says this was an eye-opening experience for the community because so many people are used to relying on firefighters to save their properties. But push came to shove because first responders were busy controlling two large fires, so the community stepped up.

“In hindsight, I’m so grateful because we feel like we dodged a bullet in terms of losing everything. I just feel like this community has really shown its true colors of being supportive and amazing,” Wis says. “This little fire that we had and what we did here is a great little story, but you weren't even thinking of it that way because there was an apocalypse up the road and all we thought about was all the other people who were losing everything. We thought this was just an exciting day, hard work and scary, but we did it.” 

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