By Jeff Brumley
A Colorado Baptist pastor feels stunned and grateful in the midst of raging wildfires that have spared his home and church but killed two neighbors and destroyed hundreds of houses.
“Numbness and shock – PTSD is what it is,” said Bob Bender, pastor at First Baptist Church of Black Forest in Colorado Springs.
“We’re bummed out but when we think how devastating other people have it – it looks like Hiroshima up there – we consider ourselves blessed.”
The Waldo Canyon fire has made international news since it began June 23 in the Pike National Forest and began its march toward Colorado Springs. It has charred more than 17,000 acres and at one point even threatening the U.S. Air Force Academy.
It has been labeled as the most destructive fire in Colorado history. It consumed almost 350 homes, killed two people and caused the evacuation of at least 3,000 residents, according to news reports.
Among them are Bender and his wife, Beverly. They were already evacuating their four-bedroom, two-story home June 26 when police arrived to clear the neighborhood.
Fourteen of Bender’s relatives, including his two adult children and their families, had to flee their homes, too. Bender and his wife are now staying with his in-laws, and will likely not be able to return home for weeks.
“Our house is closest to the fire, so we will be the last to get back in,” he said Tuesday.
The most poignant moment for him came a few days later when authorities gathered 1,300 evacuees to reveal whose homes had burned down, and whose hadn’t.
“They passed out this document, the saddest document I have ever seen,” Bender said. It listed address after address with the word “destroyed” next to them.
“You just heard these gasps in the room.”
Bender has been keeping busy to help with the stress. He is a chaplain for support personnel who are serving firefighters. He’s been stunned to see them returning from the canyons looking like soldiers returning from war.
It also brought Bender into contact with President Barack Obama, who visited the area on Friday and took time out to meet with firefighters and the support team Bender serves.
“I said I want you to know I am praying for you, and he said, ‘I appreciate that and I believe in the power of prayer.'”