Recovering from the flames
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – There’s a dead apricot tree in the garden of a West Glenwood home that’s alive with memories.The charred tree is a bittersweet reminder of June 8, 2002 – the day that uprooted Troy Gordon’s and Michel Field’s dreams. “It’s not something you ever want to go through,” said Gordon, of the Coal Seam Fire that burnt the married couple’s home to the ground. “There was so much that went on at that time, so much work to be done, then the marriage. It was a very roller-coaster year.”On June 8 four years ago, Gordon was at a softball tournament in Craig. Field was talking to him on their cordless phone when she heard a pounding on the front door.A stranger told her to get out quick. A short time later, the fire consumed the home she and Gordon worked two jobs each to build in 1994.”There was no warning,” she said. “It was a nice June day, a little hot. You could see smoke all day long, and the sky was turning redder and redder. But when he knocked on the door, there were flames.”Field grabbed her bag, corralled the three dogs in the home – two hers and one she was dog sitting – and left her house for the last time.
By 12:30 a.m. June 9, Gordon finally made it to Glenwood and back to his fiancee. He also reached his parents, whose home was also destroyed by the fire. At that point, Gordon’s only possessions were those stuffed in an overnight bag.”The first thing we had to do was buy new toothbrushes and a change of clothes,” he said. “Initially, in that first week or so, it’s a very empty feeling.”After the blaze, it was time to find a temporary place to live.”I went to a friend’s house, then we ended up moving in with my mom for six months,” Field said.
Gordon no longer had baby pictures or the camel saddle his uncle gave his grandma when he was stationed in Turkey.”That’s what is tough though, losing the memories,” Field said. “Who cares about a couch. It’s the pictures – you’ll never take those pictures again.”Gordon’s childhood Schwinn bike with a banana seat was nearly reduced to a metal frame.”That was Troy’s bike since he was 8 years old. I kept telling him, ‘We gotta get rid of that bike,'” Field said. “We then had it appraised after the fire, that bike was worth money. He was so proud to tell me that. I never lived that one down.”The invitations for the couple’s upcoming wedding at the Hotel Colorado – stamped and addressed to be mailed out the next week – were mere ashes.”I lost everything (for the wedding) but the dress and the centerpieces,” Field said. “Because I was superstitious. I didn’t want to bring the dress home.”The couple also lost their 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air, a vintage car Field received as a trade-in for $100. The old Chevy never had a chance – the flames were so hot they melted the car’s windshield. “It was 95 percent restored,” Gordon said. “It should have been done that summer.”
Four years have passed since the fire that destroyed more than 12,000 acres and caused the evacuation of West Glenwood. Gordon and Field married in the fall after the fire and honeymooned in Hawaii a month later.”We actually got closer,” Field said. “We had to replace everything.”And they rebuilt on the site of their former home.”It was a two-story, like this one, reduced to a foot of ash in the basement,” Field said. “We were the first to start rebuilding, the first to move back in. We really define things by, oh, is that pre-fire or post-fire?”Pre-fire memories include tree logs turned into tables on the couple’s new porch.”Those are stumps from a 100-plus-year-old pine tree my grandmother planted,” Gordon said. A resilient rose bush with light pink flowers that survived the fire grows in the garden.
The couple has spent the last three summers working on the garden and the landscaping surrounding their home.”We’re 99.9 percent done,” Field said. “And this is 10 times better.”Life for Gordon and Field is nearly back to normal. Now they hope to enjoy the outdoors camping, hiking, playing softball and riding ATVs. Field and her mom are starting a new mobile dog-washing business this summer.And Field’s favorite part of her new home?The remains of the branchless, once-fruitful apricot tree in the garden.Vail, Colorado