Gratitude and Guilt: Homeowner Reflects on Cole Creek Fire
A resident in one of the subdivisions west of Cole Creek Road is grappling with the conflicting emotions of survivor's guilt.
And Clif Mc Crady arrives at conclusions about gratitude and giving.
"You look at some of the homes and people have lost so much, and I go into my house and it's perfectly fine," Mc Crady said.
He found no smell, no ash, nothing to indicate a fire even happened, he said.
"And it got, what, 600 feet to my house? It got 600 feet and I was spared, and I think it's so we can do something better, to make the community a little stronger," Mc Crady said.
He was away from his house on Sunburst Drive on Sunday afternoon when the winds whipped up the sparks and flames from a wood chip pile that caught fire at the Casper landfill to the west on Saturday. On hearing the news, Mc Crady drove fast to Cole Creek Road, but the Natrona County Sheriff's Office had imposed an evacuation order and wasn't letting anyone into the subdivisions.
On Monday, he found a place on Hat Six Road watched his house four miles away through the telephoto lens of his camera. As long as he saw his yellow pickup and his late mother's blue sedan, he knew his place was safe, he said.
After the evacuation order was lifted Tuesday evening, Mc Crady saw how the 50-mph flames split into two paths near the west end of the wind turbines. One path went south of him and one went north.
His house and four acres were untouched.
But the "what ifs" still grabbed him by the throat.
When Mc Crady was looking for land east of Casper nearly a decade ago, he had his heart set on a nearby lot, he said. A day before he was going to sign the paperwork, someone else bought the place out from under him.
A real estate agent told him other land was available and he found the the place he now calls home.
And his first love? Not only did the fire incinerate that house, its intense heat warped the steel I-beams between the basement and what little was left of the ground floor.
"It really hurts when you think about the people who have lost pets and horses; when you think about the people who have lost their homes, their memories," he said.
Thursday, the fire appeared out as Mc Crady drove around his neighborhood and east on Geary Dome Road. Some neighbors were going about their daily business, while others sifted through the ashes of what was left of their homes.
But the wind still haunted residents with swirling dust devils, which look just like smoke plumes. "They send a chill right down your spine," Mc Crady said.
The gratitude throughout the subdivisions was everywhere, with signs thanking the firefighters and other first responders.
Mc Crady was no different. "It's hard work. They fought hard. They did it. God love 'em."
He intends to do his part to help firefighters in the future and do more to clear brush and fire hazards near his house.
Mc Crady also wants to look at what can be done to have a road built that would offer another way in and out of the area, because now Cole Creek Road is the only option, he said.
"You don't survive something like this, and not try to make the world a better place," he said.
What Francis Scott Key was talking about:
Tom Morton, Townsquare Media