A Taylor Student's Reflection on the Colorado FireBy Jim Garringer Published: Jul 10, 2012
When Drew Neuenschwander left for Colorado Springs to do an internship with Focus on the Family, he expected hard work, great fellowship, and an opportunity to grow in the field of communications. Two weeks after he was evacuated from the path of one of the nation’s worst wildfires, Neuenschwander says his faith has been challenged and stretched as well.
Neuenschwander is a senior professional writing major; his internship with Focus on the Family is with their Adventures in Odyssey children’s radio program – a show that airs each week nationwide and tells stories of the residents of the imaginary town Odyssey.
The first month of the internship was everything Neuenschwander thought it would be as he immersed himself in script writing, sound and voice editing and brainstorming story ideas. His main responsibility is supporting podcasts that contain additional information about Odyssey’s characters, Whit, Eugene, Connie, Wooten and Matthew, all of which can be downloaded from WhitsEndblog.Org.
“The primary purpose of podcast is to interact with fans,” Neuenschwander says. “We want to build up some hype, promote contests, and let the fans who want to go the extra mile and be as involved as they want to be.”
Facing the Fire
A month into his stay, a wildfire started on the outskirts of the city. Fueled by dry conditions and whipped by strong winds, the fire, now known as the Waldo Canyon Fire, roared out of control, forcing residents to flee their homes and bringing hundreds of firefighters to the state to battle it. Homes in the affected area included one owned by a Focus staff member named Randy, who was serving as the summer host for Neuenschwander and other Focus interns.
“My roommate had gone back to the house before we went home for the day; he called us and told us it was really bad,” Neuenschwander remembers. “He asked, ‘Do you have anything valuable in the house?’ Instantly, I pictured him looking at a ‘past-tense’ house. ‘Joe, are you telling me it’s burning right now?’ I asked. I thought, ‘OK, it’s gone. All the stuff is gone.’ I had a surprising peace about it.
“He came back and said again, ‘It’s really hard to see because of the smoke.’ He was trying to tell me where the fire was,” Neuenschwander says. “He didn’t think I could make it back to the house because the traffic was insane. I thought I would make a shot of it. Our house wasn’t under mandatory evacuation, but it was close.
“The sky was apocalyptic – it was on fire,” he adds. “When I left the smoke was over us. It blocked all of the sky except for a thin seam on the eastern horizon. It was terrifying. You could see the fire in the distance.
“I put a wet tee shirt over my face so I could breathe. Everybody was driving scared, driving crazy. I had to use GPS to take a detour. It was a long, out-of-the-way route, but fortunately there was no traffic.”
The thick cloud of smoke had settled in his host’s neighborhood when Neuenschwander arrived. As he and Randy, grabbed whatever they could, they learned the officials had declared the neighborhood was under an evacuation order.
“I was going through some of Randy’s stuff with him. It was surreal to think this was his house,” Neuenschwander remembers. “He had so much to lose; but it was clear he wasn’t attached to it. He would pick up a book or a game, or some implement in the kitchen, and would just look at it and shake his head and say, ‘That can burn,’ and set it down. It really impacted me – there would be this great monetary loss if the house went and he was fine with that.”
“I packed up all of our stuff that I could fit into my car and I called people and texted people,” he says. “People told me they were praying for me. At one point I stepped outside and the smoke had cleared – it was a huge blessing.”
“A lot of people were worried about me and praying for me,” he says. “A friend posted a Facebook status and asked people to pray for me. I appreciated all of that. Multiple people were asking. I called my parents and told them I was okay and was being evacuated. I definitely prayed for Randy; I prayed for the neighborhood.”
"By allowing us to prepare for the worst, God allowed us to refocus on what is essential."
Neuenschwander and the other interns have stayed in other homes in the Colorado Springs metro area since their evacuation. With the fire now more than 90 percent contained, he has begun emotionally processing the experience. “I feel like God is manifesting Himself in the unexpected mishaps and catastrophes,” he explains. “When God takes you off the beaten trail, just follow Him all the way and trust him because it seems like those accidents, those inconveniences, those hang-ups are really times he gives you an opportunity to trust Him.
“The fire is a more extreme case of that,” Neuenschwander relates. “In Randy’s case, going through the house and deciding what he was willing to part with was extremely difficult.
“Randy is back in his house and the neighborhood is fine,” he says. “The fire got very close to the neighborhood. We can see where the fire stopped. It is pretty amazing – by allowing us to prepare for the worst, God allowed us to refocus on what is essential. It is a lesson I hope I learned. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.”