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Randalls move forward after fire PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   
“It’s all stuff. We can’t replace people; obviously we can replace stuff. We have a lot to be thankful for, for sure.”

It’s been nearly two months since Preston and Amanda (Bennett) Randall lost their home in Colorado’s High Park Fire, but they can look back and know there is a bigger reason for it all, even if it doesn’t make sense to them.

This young couple celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary Aug. 6, and although the past two months haven’t been what they planned, they have been absolutely blown away by the support from family, friends and even people they barely know.

“It’s way overwhelming, but it’s a good overwhelmed,” said Amanda. All of the support is a huge comfort to them.

Formerly of Holyoke, Amanda is the daughter of Mike and Susan Bennett and a 2005 graduate of Holyoke High School.

A before-and-after shot of Preston and Amanda Randall’s home shows the devastation of the High Park Fire the night of Sunday, June 10. The fire was so hot it probably melted the windows and essentially burned the house from the inside, leaving what remains were left in a melted heap where the house once stood.

It has taken several weeks for the reality of losing a home to sink in for Preston and Amanda.

The fire, northwest of Fort Collins, was one of the largest and most destructive in Colorado history. Between June 9 and 100 percent containment June 30, it burned 87,284 acres, causing millions of dollars worth of damage.

The Randalls’ home was one of 259 homes and cabins lost in the fire, with another 112 outbuildings estimated to have burned.

Amanda said Saturday, June 9 they saw a small plume of smoke, but it was about 25 miles away from their home in Rist Canyon near Bellvue, so they didn’t think much of it.

Throughout the day they watched the plume grow, and around 5:30 that evening, the fire department came by with the news that they needed to evacuate as soon as possible.

“That was the worst feeling I’ve ever had,” said Amanda. “Right then I knew it wasn’t going to be a good deal.”

She said they had been worried about summer forest fires all winter due to the lack of snow and moisture. “It was hot. It was dry. The wind was blowing,” said Amanda—the perfect conditions for a Colorado fire.

Amanda said they gathered up some pictures and other belongings, but they certainly weren’t thinking very clearly. She regretted not taking more, especially those things that can’t be easily replaced, like memories from Preston’s childhood or furniture from his grandparents.

They turned on a spotlight at the house, and they were not more than 50 yards away before the spotlight was undetectable due to the thick smoke.

The Randalls took a load to Preston’s parents’ house, then returned to get a couple more vehicles out of the canyon.

In the little sleep they got that night, they were awakened by a strong smell of smoke. The winds had shifted in the night, and now this house was in danger as well.

Preston’s parents were out of town, so when they got the evacuation call early Sunday, June 10, Preston and Amanda gathered what they could of his parents’ belongings, and along with their own things, headed to a family friend’s house in Laporte.

With two evacuations already under their belt, the couple helped evacuate Preston’s brother just 12 hours later. This evacuation was a little more complicated though, because they had to account for everything for his brother’s twin babies.

Sunday was a scary day for the Randalls. They knew if their parents’ house was evacuated, the fire must be close to their house for sure.

That night, they used spotting scopes to keep an eye on their house. “The fire was on three sides of the house,” said Amanda, explaining how the fire had made a horseshoe shape, eventually filling itself in.

Amidst the flames, they could see an explosion, and Amanda had a really bad feeling that it was her house.

It was confirmed early Monday morning, when Preston could see that their house, which stood high atop a ridge, was no longer there.

The young couple had spent a great deal of time making that house into a home. “And all of that was for nothing,” said Amanda.

It’s hard for her to keep going there, because she can recognize little things left in the house, burned and melted into almost unrecognizable objects.

Healthy, green trees in the top photo are replaced by black stumps in the bottom photo. The landscape along the Randalls’ driveway was drastically changed after the High Park Fire, but now, two months later, there is already an abundance of new, bright green growth determined to replace the ugliness left by the fire.

“Because it was a forest fire, it’s not your typical house fire,” she said. Not even the fireproof safe was resistant to the 3,500-degree fire. They think the fire was so hot it melted the windows first, catching the curtains on fire and essentially burning the house down from the inside.

It burned so quickly nothing was even smoldering when Preston saw it Monday morning. The bedroom set they had just gotten a week before and all their wedding presents were now gone. “Everything just burned to nothing,” she added.

“It’s just the luck of the draw,” said Amanda, noting their area was one of the hardest hit in the High Park Fire. Of the 50 homes in their neighborhood, only about a dozen are left.

Preston’s family came out with their houses virtually unharmed.

His parents were lucky the air support came in time to help save their neighborhood. That leaves Amanda with a lot of what ifs, wondering if the firefighters could have done anything for her house. “Maybe a helicopter and fancy stuff wouldn’t have even helped,” she said, noting some are saying the walls of fire were 200-300 feet high, something that’s not easily stopped.

In the two months since the fire, life has gone on for this young couple. They have moved into a rented townhouse in the Denver area with rented furniture, all provided by their insurance.

In the middle of all this, Amanda completed her state boards for nursing at the beginning of July. She will begin her job as an R.N. at Craig Hospital next Monday. Preston continues to work on a project in Sterling as the superintendent/project manager for Hydro Construction, a Fort Collins-based company.

Insurance is giving them a year to decide if they want to relocate or rebuild, so the Randalls want to give it a couple seasons to see how the landscape does.

Preston had bought the house and some land a few years ago. His dream home made it feel like they were alone in the forest while still being close enough to town.

The landscape was lush and beautiful, said Amanda, and although the amazing views are still there, it is no longer their home.

“Pretty much every living thing was torched,” she said. “It’s sad to see beauty turned into ugliness.”

Amid the ugliness, though, is new growth. It’s really nice to see the green, said Amanda, noting how much it stands out next to the black remains of the fire.

“It’s a chance for a new beginning, for both the forest and for people.”

Preston and Amanda are starting fresh, with a different outlook on life.

Amanda and Preston Randall are moving forward after losing their home this summer in the High Park Fire. They have not yet decided whether their home near Bellvue will be rebuilt or if they will relocate.

They can now relate to tragedy a little differently, including the other devastating wildfires in Colorado. “You just felt for those people,” said Amanda. “My heart just broke.”

And in hearing all about the Aurora theater shootings, the Randalls feel so blessed that all they lost was “stuff” instead of losing lives.

Amanda said God has a plan for them, even if it’s not quite the same as their own plan. Just as metals are put through a refiner’s fire, so too has this fire changed the hearts and minds of many. “We’re all being refined in our own challenges and trials.”

Holyoke Enterprise Aug. 9, 2012