Kellen MacDonald was at Sportsmen’s Warehouse near the Citadel Mall on June 11 when he received a text from his mother, Lainie, informing him that she was fleeing the family home.
The reason, Lainie wrote, was that a huge dark cloud of smoke was building over the tree line surrounding their six acres of Black Forest property.
“I didn’t believe her at first,” said MacDonald, 18, who graduated from The Classical Academy in May. “I looked toward Black Forest, but I couldn’t see anything. Then we went around a corner and I saw this huge plume of smoke. It was surreal.”
MacDonald never made it back home that day. That night he and the rest of the family took up temporary residence at the home of Rich Griffith - just south of the fire in Briargate.
On June 13, MacDonald was informed that his family’s home at 12845 Holmes Road had been destroyed.
It was one of 511 homes consumed by the raging fire - the most destructive in Colorado history.
Like so many people who lost their homes, MacDonald wished he could have gathered some special belongings.
His mom grabbed his 13-year-old brother, Quinn, and ran out of the house as fast as she could as the smoke and flames began to build. All she was able to take with her was the strong box holding the family’s important documents, a lap top and their two 100-pound Bernese mountain dogs.
“I lost all my awards from the past four years,” said MacDonald, who was the ace pitcher on the TCA baseball team.
“All the special things I had from when I was playing. All my recruiting stuff. It was all gone.”
Among the treasured documents MacDonald lost in the fire was his acceptance letter to Colorado School of Mines. Last winter, he signed a scholarship to play baseball for the prestigious school.
“Before all this I was ready to head off to college, but now I feel an obligation to stay here and help,” MacDonald said. “I still want to go. I’m just not that excited right now.”
MacDonald’s story, though tragic, is certainly not unique in this situation. The fire swept through the area so quickly and with so much force that there seemed to be little that firefighters could do.
“The outpouring of love and support is more overwhelming than everything we owned,” Lainie said. “Even in this moment God has been faithful to us.”
The day the fire broke out, Lainie was home enjoying the afternoon. About 2:45 she received a text from her friend, who was on vacation in Florida, informing her that she had seen video footage of a fire near the area around the MacDonald home.
Lainie was caught off guard and didn’t believe her friend. Five minutes later she was in her car headed for safety. Prior to leaving, she texted her husband, Tim - who was at work - and informed him of the dire situation.
“I probably could have taken time to take some more stuff, but it was worth it not to have my son endure the mental trauma that goes along with something like this,” Lainie said. “I wanted to keep his mental health intact.”
Tim attempted to get back to the family’s home, but emergency personal would not allow him access. Chaos was everywhere. Thousands of people were evacuating as soon as possible. The smoke was so thick it was not healthy to be within the vicinity of the fire.
About a week after their home burned to the ground, the MacDonalds returned to scope out the area and see if they could salvage anything. Kellen found a sportsmanship award pin he received from Triple Crown and a rusty Swiss Army knife he was given only weeks before as a graduation gift.
His mom found a few pieces of charred jewelry, as well as some broken pieces of China.
On July 3, the family moved from a local hotel into temporary residence - at least for the next year - at a house in Flying Horse. Meanwhile, they are patiently working with the insurance company on how to make the best of a terrible situation.
“We used to have six acres of Ponderosa Pines,” Lainie said with a smile. “Now we have six Ponderosa Pines on 5 ½ acres of charred burnt sticks. We’re going to call it Black Forest Meadows.”