After the wildfires go out, many determined to rebuild

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

DECKERS, Colo. -- Mark Flick and girlfriend Anita Langley are living in tents near the burned-out and blackened ruins of their separate cabins.

They use baby wipes to keep themselves clean. Every third day, they heat bottled water in the sun or go to a service station to take showers.

They wash their clothes at a coin laundry 20 miles away and hang them out to dry on a clothesline strung between two pines.

Flick and Langley are among residents of the foothills southwest of Denver who are rebuilding after their homes were gutted last month by the biggest wildfire in Colorado history, the 137,000-acre blaze that investigators say was started by a U.S. Forest Service employee. It destroyed 133 houses and hundreds of other buildings.

"We're not going anywhere," Flick said.

Fire officials have fielded hundreds of calls from residents who want information about rebuilding and repairing and how to protect their homes from flooding and erosion. They, like Flick and Langley, had come to love living deep in the woods, and want to stay.

"They're hardy individualists who chose this lifestyle. It's very important to them," said Steve Butterworth of the assistance center set up to help victims of the fire. "I see most people are very determined to hold onto that lifestyle."

Flick, 39, and Langley, 46, have lived among the pines for about seven years, along a dirt road with no address marking. Their property is found by watching for a group of mailboxes on a rural highway, then taking a narrow, rocky dirt road over a hill and into a small, wooded valley.

A carpenter, Flick used the wood from the trees to add bedrooms and other buildings onto his cabin. Langley's cabin was built in the 1970s.

Langley said she and Flick liked the seclusion.

Flick worked from home until the fire destroyed most of his tools. She used to work as a lawyer, but was helping Flick with his carpentry when the fire broke out.

The area is a testament to the fire's fickle nature. Lush, green forest stands next to barren areas of blackened, toothpick-like trees.

'Lost touch with reality'

Standing amid the rubble of his former home, Flick sighed as he nudged a few burned tools and some knickknacks on the ground.

Gone is the 1978 Peugeot car Flick spent seven years restoring. Antique chairs from Germany and family photos are just memories.

"There's not really a whole lot left, mostly tools," Flick said.

Cans of corn and cranberries line a small wooden bookshelf outside an old RV nicknamed "the kitchen," where a microwave and mini-refrigerator are powered by a small generator. The couple use a neighbor's phone to call friends and family.

"We've lost touch with reality," Langley said. "I'm shocked at what news has gone on."

He and Langley hope to rebuild before winter, when the ground freezes and snow blankets the mountains.

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