On the afternoon of June 11, 2013, Sandy Shearer napped in her Black Forest home, unaware that her life was about to change forever.
The first flames of the Black Forest fire were charging toward her house, and within minutes had consumed much of the Shearer’s five-acre property on Darr Drive, situated a few hundred yards from where investigators believe was the fire’s origin.
It wasn’t until Shearer awoke to her barking dog and a smoke-filled room that she realized something was terribly wrong. The back porch was on fire and flames were quickly spreading throughout the house.
Shearer fled the property in the lone family car that hadn’t been consumed by the fire, leaving a scorched home and 17 years of memories behind.
“All I had time to do was call 911,” Sandy Shearer told The Gazette in June. “I was so overwhelmed I just hung up.”
Shearer and her husband Don are among nearly 500 homeowners in the Black Forest area now facing a difficult decision: rebuild in a devastated forest, or take what insurance money is available and try to relocate elsewhere.
See our coverage of the Black Forest fire recovery here.
For the Shearers, that decision is proving to be a difficult one.
Around the time that Sandy Shearer was fleeing, her husband Don Shearer sat anxiously in his car, held up by a roadblock at the intersection over a mile from their home at the intersection of Milam and Shoup roads. He left within 30 minutes of seeing smoke from his office building, but was unable to get in touch with his wife.
“The idea that I went to work that day and when I left just about practically everything I owned was in my car,” Don Shearer said. “It all just blew up so fast.”
Most of the Shearer’s material possessions were lost in the fire. None of the family members were injured in the fire, but their house suffered a total loss.
“It was kind of like having the house dropped from ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Don Shearer said. “You go from being very happy in the home you have to having to decide where you want to live and going house shopping when it wasn’t on your radar at all.”
Among their few surviving possessions was a koi fishpond — a fond reminder of sunny days in their forest home. Though currently renting a property in Monument, the couple still returns to feed their fish when the weather is nice.
“We go back frequently and look at our property. We think about if we were to rebuild what kind of house it would be and where we would put it,” Don Shearer said.
In June, only days after the fire smoldered out, Don Shearer was plucking whatever he could find from his destroyed property on Darr Road through deep, black soot. Wearing heavy work gloves and laboring through the ash, there wasn’t much to find except burnt rubble and a lot of it.
Six months later, the future for Don and Sandy Shearer remains unclear. Although they would like to move back to the forest, they have been unable to find a house for rent that hasn’t been damaged or destroyed.
The land in the trees where the Shearer’s home once stood was mostly bare Sunday afternoon. A lone cross, carved from a charred tree, poked through the snow across from the charred remains of a destroyed SUV.
“We are considering rebuilding. We haven’t made a decision, but we still have our land there and we do have insurance which would help us rebuild,” Don Shearer said.
Despite their losses, the Shearers have retained a sense of hope that has helped them through the healing process.
“You learn to kind of start again and work through a lot of things,” Don Shearer said. “As time goes by it does get easier. It’s not quite as raw as it once was.”