Through the Flames

The most destructive wildfire in Colorado history had a big impact on several AQHA members.

By Alicia Harris, AQHA online communications and publications intern
The American Quarter Horse Journal
June 26, 2013

Black Forest Fire in Colorado, 2013

The air was still smoky and hazy even after the Black Forest fire was fully contained. (Journal photo)

It has been declared the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history; the landmark blaze was centered in Black Forest, northeast of Colorado Springs and southeast of Denver. As of June 21, more than 14,000 acres have been burned, at least 509 homes destroyed and two people killed. Although the fire is now fully contained, there are still many people displaced because of the blaze.

Sharon Roof, Colorado resident and longtime American Quarter Horse owner and exhibitor, quickly found herself at the heart of tragedy. She was showing her horse with her granddaughter in Nebraska when she heard the news.

“I was in Nebraska at the Corn Huskers Classic,” Sharon says. “I guess it was on Tuesday afternoon when I called my husband. He was up in Fort Collins, so he was not at home. He said, ‘Did you hear?’ And I said, ‘Hear what?’ Then he said that there was a fire in Black Forest.”

Black Forest is where Sharon, her husband, daughter and five grandchildren call home.

Shaun Gloude, Sharon’s trainer, was with Sharon at the horse show when she heard the news.

“We were at the show in Lincoln, and she was with us,” Shaun says. “She got the news that there was not only a forest fire in Black Forest, but that her house had been threatened. When the first list of destroyed homes came out, her house was not on it. She talked to a friend of hers in California whose son is a firefighter, and he was able to confirm that her house had not yet been burned and that her house was very defendable. When the second list came out, unfortunately her address showed up on it. The fire had doubled back and got her house. She lost everything.”

Sharon said her grandkids were playing outside when one of them told their mother that they smelled smoke. Sharon’s daughter started investigating and found that the fires were gaining ground quickly. The kids grabbed a few clothes, loaded up the dog, the cat and what rabbits they could, and they all evacuated.

“(My daughter) said she was heading down the road, and embers were coming right behind her,” Sharon says. “But it wasn’t until Thursday early afternoon that we really got verification, or I did, that our house had burned. It was no longer standing. … So at that point I said, ‘I want to go home.’ ”

It’s not something any horse owner wants to think about, but disaster planning takes forethought for horses due to their size and transportation needs. Read on to learn more about preparing for the worst.

Shaun, who has worked closely with Sharon for about five years, has watched her grow as an AQHA exhibitor. She shared in some of Sharon’s pain.

“She had gone to the Adequan Select World Championship Show and had never placed until last year when she finally got her name called,” Shaun says about Sharon. “The medallion went up in flames. That was seriously … I’m sorry, it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about this, but those were the first words out of her mouth was that she lost her medallion. That’s how important that was to her.”
Shaun quickly got on the phone with AQHA and is having a replacement medallion made for Sharon.

Sharon and her granddaughter Isabella were anxiously looking forward to the 2013 Adequan Select and Built Ford Tough AQHYA world championship shows, respectively. While most of their show clothes and equipment were taken in the blaze, including the new outfits they had purchased for the world shows, they still remain hopeful about attending the events.

“We haven’t crossed that off our list yet,” Sharon says. “We’ll have to wait until probably the last minute to determine where we are. But we hope to be able to go.”

“I’m going to do whatever I can to get her there,” Shaun says.

While it will be a difficult fresh start, Sharon is optimistic about the future.

“We saw pictures of our home on TV before we were able to go out,” Sharon says. “It was just surreal. You think something like this isn’t going to happen to you. … But you know, we were lucky that all eight of us were out safe, we got most of our animals out safe. Insurance companies around here have set up trailers, and they’ve got a disaster area for everyone to go in and get information and get help. The community here has just been awesome. All my friends, everyone, people I hardly know asking, ‘What can I do for you?’ ”

The United States Air Force Academy Equestrian
Stables in Colorado Springs, Colorado, housed
22 local evacuated horses. Robert Templin, animal
caretaker (left); Jeanne Springer and Kari Randle Bright,
USAFA equestrian team coach, are shown here with
22-year-old "Amigo."

AQHA Professional Horseman Shane Brown of Elbert, Colorado, was like Sharon in that he was at a horse show when the blaze threatened his farm. Luckily for him, the fairgrounds were only 20 miles away from his home so he was able to move the 24 horses at his facility to the Douglas County fairgrounds with him. Shane’s parents, who live in the area, were evacuated, as well.

“My mom and dad had to evacuate,” Shane says. “They originally came to our place first, then next thing you know, we’ve got to evacuate also. We had had four head of horses come here that evacuated when the fire started, and we ended up having to move those, as well. It grew really, really fast. It was incredible.”

Shane was able to move all of his horses back on the evening of June 16.

AQHA member Billy Jack Barrett is on the other side of the evacuation equation. Billy Jack runs the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Equestrian Center in Colorado Springs, and the horseman assisted with the evacuation of horses to safe places.

“We’re picking them up and transporting them,” Billy Jack says. “There are a lot of people whose homes are gone.”

Black Forest, he says, is a community with many horse owners, including a number of AQHA members, on small horse properties.

Officials estimated that nearly 500 horses have been moved to temporary relocation centers, including the Air Force Academy and fairgrounds such as those in Callahan and Kiowa. Many more have been moved to private facilities or were turned loose before the approaching fires.  

AQHA Professional Horseman Bill Bormes
shows off Holly the Donkey, whom it took five
people to load by virtue of picking her up and
putting her in the trailer.

William “Bill” Bormes, an AQHA Professional Horseman from Castle Rock, Colorado, was another AQHA member affected by the Black Forest Fire. One of his friends, Devin Warren, had evacuated part of his horses to Bill’s farm on June 12. However, Bill found himself evacuating horses that very same day.

“By mid-afternoon, it didn’t make any sense for us to stay because my farm is full of trees, and it is 275 acres of old-growth forest,” Bill says. “(The fire) was coming at us. It was coming straight north. The wind was blowing it toward us, and so we evacuated and evacuated Devin’s horses also.”

“The fires move so fast if they get going,” Bill says.

Bill was in the voluntary evacuation area, but he wanted to move quickly because moving 67 of his own horses, plus Devin’s horses, would be no small feat. They were able to move the horses back to the farm June 15.

“People were amazing,” Bill says. “People just stood up and did stuff. It was just amazing. Trying to transport 67 horses and know where they went took a lot of coordination.”

The Pikes Peak County Foundation has created a fund and is accepting donations to help with the costs associated with caring for the displaced horses. To contribute to the Colorado Wildfire Equine Fund, go online to www.ppcf.org/products/equine.

Andrea Caudill contributed to this report.