'It's Time Now to Embark on Another Phase of Life'

Jul 10, 2017

Several months prior to the Waldo Canyon Fire, Myrna Candreia had a premonition.  "Something inside me told me, 'You need to prepare for a fire,'" she recalls.  "I had developed this feeling inside that things weren't good. Maybe it was because of the drought we were having?"

One week before the fire, she went to Staples, bought boxes and set them up, but didn't fill them.  "I could have been fully prepared and a lot more prepared.  I wasn't.  I got a few things out," she says.

Candreia, a consultant who works from her home, has lived in Parkside since 2002, relocating from Washington D.C. to be close to her family.  Her two-story house was built in the early 90s, and Candreia remembers Parkside as parklike, with lots of trees and green.  She paints a picture of her home as warm and welcoming, with beautiful trees in the front.

"I remember backing out of the driveway, and I looked up at my house, and for some reason, I said, 'Thank you for being my home,' and that was the last time I ever saw it."

"That is the house when I think about it, even when I'm in my current home, that is the house that I see when I walk in the front door."

She'd been evacuated.  But on that Tuesday, July 26, 2012, when residents were allowed back into their homes for a spell, Candreia says she went home and started working, still thinking things would be ok.  "I sat at my computer and I was working with my colleagues back east."

A call from her daughter prompted her to leave.  Her family was headed on a trip, and her daughter wanted her to pick up their cat. 

When she was getting ready to head out, she packed up her computer.  At the last minute, Candreia looked up and saw an antique mirror above her fireplace that she decided to bring with her.  Other things she thought she might have wanted, she says she'd already taken out on Saturday.

"I remember backing out of the driveway, and I looked up at my house, and for some reason, I said 'Thank you for being my home,' and that was the last time I ever saw it," Candreia remembers.

At the time, Candreia says she didn't recall having the premonition earlier that year, but, she says, "it felt like what I had been thinking was going to happen was really happening, even though the whole time, it was still like a denial thing."

"Yes, it's just stuff. But it's the stuff that makes up your life."

Candreia found out she lost her home while at dinner with a neighbor.  They were at Saigon Café in downtown Colorado Springs, "and we're just kind of sitting there, feeling pretty disconnected, because nobody could go home."

Her neighbor's son sent her an aerial photo from The Denver Post.  She opened the file on her phone, and could tell her neighbor's home was still there.

"But I knew that if I kept scrolling down, I would be able to see my home," Candreia remembers.  So she scrolled.  "And there was nothing left." 

She remembers leaving the restaurant and making it to the street before starting to cry.  "I just... kind of lost it," she says. "To see nothing, where when I had left, there was something… It's hard to put that into words.  Because it was nothing, but what did that nothing mean?"

On the first day residents were allowed to go back into the neighborhood, Candreia recalls wondering what she might find at the site of her home.  She figured they'd find her cast iron skillets, and they did.  "A little melted," Candreia adds. 

A set of porcelain tea cups was one of the few items that Myrna Candreia was able to recover from her home after the fire. They're still covered in ash.
Credit Myrna Candreia

"The other thing I found, which was amazing to me," Candreia says, was "ten of my China teacups in perfect condition.  And then when the property was being sifted, they found the last two…  And I have 12 perfect teacups." 

Things moved quickly for Candreia, and she says she really didn't have time to decide whether or not to rebuild.  She credits her son for helping her through the following year.

One June 27, 2013, one year and one day after the fire burned through Mountain Shadows, Myrna Candreia moved into her new home on the same lot.

"It was dark," she remembers.  "I remember being in the home the first night with my dog and my cat, and it was… just kind of odd."

Now, she says, there is a new normal.  "And it's nice."

Candreia had some of the burned trees from her yard saved, and they now frame her fireplace.  But she says she still goes looking for things.  "Yes, it's just stuff," she says.  "But it's the stuff that makes up your life."  She laments the loss of items passed from generation to generation, and not having them to pass along to her children and grandchildren. 

"I kept shards of stuff right after the fire," Candreia says, including those cast iron skillets.  And, she says, she took those things to the new house when she moved in.  "And the next year, I opened the boxes, and I looked in and was like, 'Why am I keeping these? I don't have a feeling for them.'"

So, she says, she threw them away.  She threw a lot of things away that she'd managed to salvage.

"Except for the teacups."

They're still covered in the ash from the fire.  And she wonders why she's keeping them.

"Would I ever just take them and dump them in the trash and let them break?  After they were so strong and stellar and came through the fire?"

"There's a process now coming forth in me to talk about rediscovery, from before the fire to now... How is it different from what was?"

No, she says.  "Probably not.  Maybe I'll just let the kids decide what they want to do with the teacups," she finishes with a laugh.  "I really don't know."

Questions still linger for Candreia, questions like what decisions she made, which ones she regrets, and which ones she doesn't regret.  But, she says, "there's a process now coming forth in me to talk about rediscovery, from before the fire to now…. How is it different from what was?"

Candreia says she felt fortunate to move on, adding, maybe quicker than others. 

"It feels like it's time now to embark on another phase of life for me."

She doesn't know what that's going to look like or where it will take her, but she knows the fire will have a role to play. 

Listen to Myrna Candreia's story in the player above.

This story comes from 91.5 KRCC's special series, "Five Years Later: Remembering the Waldo Canyon Fire." Find more stories from those affected by the fire here.