More than 190,000 acres. Three hundred and sixty-six homes. More than 200 other buildings. All consumed in a matter of weeks by the East Troublesome Fire last fall in Colorado.
In its wake, thousands of people were left struggling with what to do in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seven months later, many were still stuck when a team of 10 TBM volunteers arrived in Grand County, Colo., through an effort organized by Colorado Baptist Disaster Relief. Dressed in Tyvek suits and N95 masks to clear trash and debris, the team of sifted through the charred remains of homes belonging to people still struggling to pick up the pieces.
“It was mostly all ash,” said TBM Ministry Advancement Coordinator Sabrina Pinales, who led the TBM team. “But occasionally you’d run into a spoon or fork and you’d know you were working in their kitchen area. It kind of hit you hard in that moment: this is where they used to live. This is where they used to eat. This belonged to them.”
The team cleared seven properties, making it possible for teams to help people take the next steps in the recovery process. All the structures were classified as total losses, with many owners still determining how to move forward, as the properties had been uninsured or underinsured.
“Just to see the magnitude, as far as what the fire did, is humbling,” said Jerry Hall, who was part of the team. “It was just amazing, the devastation of these homes, how fast the fire spread. I think one of the homeowners told us that the winds around his home had been clocked at 100 miles an hour during the fire.”
Meeting homeowners put faces to need for the volunteers, driving home the importance of ash-out relief work, Hall said.
“In the case of the gentleman with the mobile home park, he had been working on this by himself for a year and he was not very far along in the process,” Hall said. “He was just overcome, so we could come in there with the team and give him some hope. He’s still got a long way to go to recover from that, but at least there was some hope for him.”
The sheer magnitude of devastation initially felt overwhelming to the TBM volunteers, as well, Pinales said.
“Walking in, we weren’t sure we could do all this,” Pinales said. “Then we got our heads together, prayed and got to work. By the end of the day, we completed so much more and accomplished so much more than we ever thought possible. It was a matter of just persevering.”
For Donna Trimble, TBM’s ash-out mission presented an opportunity to put faith into action. Trimble said she prayed God would assemble the right team and opportunities to share God’s love through the volunteers’ work.
In addition to manual labor, the TBM crew managed to leave a Bible for one of the homeowners, in which the team had noted some of their favorite scriptures and written encouraging words.
“Last year, God had really burdened me to pray for the fire control and for people who lost stuff during that time,” Trimble said. “One of the main reasons I went was because God had impressed that on my heart, and I felt like I could finally do something besides praying for them.”