High Park Fire one year later: Family shares keys to recovery

Five-year-old Harriet Marcus-Bause keeps the key to her former Glacier View Meadows home in a special place in the closet of her Fort Collins home. It’s been there since she moved into a new house last August and is one of the few intact items from the family’s home that was destroyed in the June, 2012 High Park Fire.

To Harriet, now a kindergartener at Putnam Elementary School in Fort Collins, the key is a treasured reminder of a place she loved.

Key to healing. Five-year-old Harriet Marcus-Bause holds the key to the family’s mountain home that was destroyed during the 2012 High Park Fire. With her is (l-r) sister, Phoebe; dad, Fred; mom, Pam and sister, Isabella. The family now resides in Fort Collins.   Photo by Libby James.
Key to healing. Five-year-old Harriet Marcus-Bause holds the key to the family’s mountain home that was destroyed during the 2012 High Park Fire. With her is (l-r) sister, Phoebe; dad, Fred; mom, Pam and sister, Isabella. The family now resides in Fort Collins. Photo by Libby James.

Her parents, Pam and Fred Marcus-Bause, and her sisters, Phoebe, 15, and Isabella, 11, all have fond memories of their home and cling to mementos rescued from the fire. Today they’re able to laugh as they recall searching through rubble with friends, and their excitement at finding items that survived the intense heat. Comfortably settled in their permanent residence in Old Town North in Fort Collins — though they still own the lot the mountain home once stood on — they refer to a gathering to celebrate their new home as a “cooling down” rather than a housewarming.

None of them will ever forget the seven years they spent in a much-loved mountain setting at 108 Snowy Range Court, and the gift of a lifestyle that brought them especially close as a family. The girls felt they had the best of two worlds; the pleasure of living in the mountains and parents committed to the logistics and planning involved with allowing them to participate in school activities, lessons and social activities. Yet, for a number of reasons, they made the difficult decision not to rebuild. While the process of inventorying their belongings was painful, they were fortunate to have an insurance agent whose professional and personalized service allowed them to make choices about how to recover and move forward.

Pam and Fred felt that embarking on a long and complicated rebuilding process would mean sacrificing time with their three daughters. “Supporting and being there for our girls is our priority, and much more valuable than the location of our home,” Pam says. “Losing the home they were raised in was traumatic. We wanted them to be settled as quickly as possible in a place they knew as home, so they could focus on healing.”

Fred says being the only male in a household that includes three daughters, two female border collie-Great Pyrenees mixes, and Rose, the parakeet, makes him a better man. He fondly handles the partially melted remains of his father’s .22 shotgun that resides in a glass cabinet alongside a dainty but discolored teacup that belonged to Pam’s mother. “The gun has no value except to me,” Fred says, pointing out an artistically-shaped lump of metal, all that remains of a ladder he owned.

Pam has kept the blackened remains of a charm bracelet, many years in the making, that once held a charm with the words “Mommy” on it. She displays a charred flute she played years ago and passed down to daughter Phoebe. Thanks to the generosity of Poudre School District, Phoebe now has a new flute. The memento cabinet also contains two menorahs from Pam’s family that survived the fire and a small tin box that protected its contents, three small hand-crocheted yarmulkes, now shrunk and blackened but very much intact. “How did these small pieces of fabric survive?” Fred asks, pointing out that the heat of the fire completely destroyed his set of dominoes inside a similar tin box.

Isabella, 11, now attending Lincoln Middle School, talks about the support she got from friends like Joanie who made and sold small charms to raise funds following the fire.

The family’s life changed radically when they lost their home. Along with it went their furniture, most of their clothes, and their identity as mountain people who could look across their balcony and see Greyrock Mountain. They miss the hour-long car rides together to work and school in Fort Collins. They’d sing and laugh, tell stories, and enjoy being together for a set time each day. “We still have dinner together every night and share breakfast on weekends,” Phoebe says.

Because they evacuated early and had some time to pack up, the family was able to save some irreplaceable items such as teddy bears, family recipes, baby books and yearbooks. “The strange thing is that I still haven’t opened up the box of those special things,” Pam says.

A ninth grader at Poudre High School, Phoebe is the only one of the girls at the school she’d planned to attend this year. Harriet had been enrolled in Livermore Elementary and Isabella would have gone to Cache La Poudre Middle School. The girls have taken these changes in stride and are enjoying new friends.

Vacation was still on
Once evacuated, the family followed through with a planned trip to visit family in Florida. It was there, on Harriet’s fifth birthday, that they learned that their house was gone. Pam and Phoebe had similar sinking feelings on returning to Colorado. As their plane landed in Denver, both wondered what was to come next. “I had an inkling of what it would be like to be homeless,” Phoebe says.

Immediately following the loss of their home, Fred was ready to rebuild. First in a long line of Glacier homeowners allowed to return to their properties, Fred began to have second thoughts. Their favorite pink and gray “picture rock” was completely black. More than 300 trees were still standing but dead and blackened. Pam had been less sure about rebuilding, initially concerned about the use of wood to heat their home. It didn’t take long for them to realize that rebuilding would be a complicated process that would consume much of their time. When they found a house in Fort Collins that seemed a good fit, they made a quick decision and were moved in before school started last August.

Having a school bus stop just outside their front door is a great convenience. Phoebe doesn’t have to plan ahead as much to be with friends, to shop and to babysit. Being close to their schools and friends is a timesaver and allows for more frequent socializing. Slumber parties in the mountains were special, but they are easier to manage in town.

The whole family continues to be amazed by the help they’ve received from places like what Harriet called the “disastery center” established at Foothills Mall last summer where fire survivors could get food, water, clothes — most any essential you can think of. Exodus Moving and the Chabad Center helped and Advanced Animal Care took their dogs until they were settled.

“We don’t burn candles any more,” Pam says. During their first night in a hotel after their return from Florida, Pam had just gone to bed, exhausted, when the fire alarm went off in response to the smell of burning popcorn somewhere in the building. It made her realize how sensitive she was to any threat of fire.

And the fire still haunts the family’s sleep. Fred has a recurring dream in which he is the house, and the house is a part of the family. He’s also dreamed that the tree house he built survived. Pam often dreams of natural disasters.

The realization of losses grows gradually at the same time that healing begins. For this family, their solidarity with each other, their gratitude for the help they’ve received, a good dose of laughter, and their willingness to recognize the good along with the bad is the key to seeing them through.

Photos of the Marcus-Bause family’s year-long saga are available for viewing at Pam Marcus-Bause’s Bebelliet Studio website, www.bebellietstudio.com/p1025875081 .

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