Shelter offers safe haven for Black Forest Fire evacuees
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Mugen and his owner, Stacey Baffaro, evacuated to the Fort Carson Youth Center when the Black Forest Fire threatened their Gleneagle home. They were able to return Saturday afternoon.

FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Last year's Waldo Canyon Fire helped Stacey Baffaro prepare for her evacuation during the Black Forest Fire.

Baffaro and her husband, Sgt. Joe Baffaro, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, arrived at Fort Carson about a month before the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 342 homes.

"It made me think about what I would pack if it ever happened to me, so I felt prepared when it was time," she said of her evacuation. "When it was time, I knew exactly what to pack."

It was even more important for her to be prepared since her husband is at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif.

"I think it would have been less stressful (if he were here)," she said. "I had to make certain decisions on my own."

The Baffaros live in an apartment in Gleneagle, six miles from where the fire started, she said. She packed the afternoon of June 11. All day June 12, she tracked the fire's progress while at work, and by that afternoon, Baffaro had made the decision to leave.

"With all the chaos (of a possible mandatory evacuation), I decided I'm going to leave now," she said. "I wanted to beat the rush. I didn't want the stress. I didn't want to be afraid."

She drove home, picked up her cat, Mugen, and headed for the shelter at the Fort Carson Youth Services Center.

"When I saw the (news) updates, I knew I'd made the right decision," Baffaro said.

She sent a text to her husband, letting him know she'd evacuated, but that she was safe.

"He's got enough to worry about," she said. "I didn't want him to worry about me, too."

The text got to him just in time, right before he went into "the box" where communication is limited.

By the morning of June 14, Baffaro's neighborhood had been declared a mandatory evacuation zone, and she returned for a third night at the shelter.

The youth center shelter opened June 11 to house Soldiers, Department of Defense civilians, Families and pets displaced by the fire and was manned by CYSS' employees and Soldiers.

"We try to make evacuees feel as welcome as possible," said Sgt. Trino Zuniga, shelter noncommissioned officer in charge, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div.

The center received some calls from people in pre-evacuation areas who wanted to know what their options were, but few Families came to the shelter. It also received some donations of food and personal and pet care items.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris Petrunyak, Company B, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Inf. Div., and his wife brought donations Thursday night. Last year, during the Waldo Canyon Fire, he was deployed.

"It killed me, being over there, to see (the Waldo Canyon Fire) and not be involved. Now we can do something about it. I just wish we could do more," he said.

Baffaro said she was surprised by how few people came to the youth center.

"While I don't want more people at the shelter, more company would be nice," she said.

By Saturday afternoon, evacuations in her neighborhood had been lifted, and she was able to return home.

"Mugen and I were glad to be back home, and there were no damages in our area," she said. "Things are starting to get back to normal."

Page last updated Thu June 20th, 2013 at 00:00