100-degree days. 65 mile-an-hour winds. 0 inches of rain.
In the end, Rabbi Moshe and Zelda Liberow and their children had just minutes to evacuate their neighborhood on the west side of Colorado Springs, Colo.
“I never dreamed that this fire would be anywhere near my house,” Zelda Liberow, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs and Southern Colorado, said Wednesday from a hotel near Denver. “We knew it was getting close, but then, all of a sudden, the entire city was covered in smoke. It was 5:00 in the afternoon and everything was pitch black.”
Liberow’s description of events Tuesday matched those of the more than 26,000 evacuees forced to flee the advancing windswept flames of the infamous Waldo Canyon Fire. Officials termed the fire’s doubling in size as an explosion of unprecedented proportions.
It’s been “a historically challenging day,” fire incident commander Rich Harvey told The Denver Post on Tuesday.
Essentially, the high winds and dry conditions took what started as a small fire – authorities have not determined who or what is to blame – and turned it into a firestorm. Amazingly, no one has been injured.
“Thank G-d, no one’s hurt. That’s the real miracle in all of this,” said Liberow, who grabbed her children and fled with the clothes on their backs while her husband was returning home from the airport. “The fire’s out of control, but everybody got out.”
Moshe Liberow, who flew in from New York at 3:30 Tuesday afternoon, knew his wife was considering evacuating when the flames from the mountainside she could see through her windows were getting closer. But as he drove home, he had no idea what she decided in the end.
“It was an unbelievable sight,” he said. “The entire sky was orange and red and as you got closer, it turned this pitch black. As I was getting close to the exit, I was frantic and called 911. There was smoke all over the place and fire in the streets. Finally, I couldn’t go any farther.”
The rabbi turned around, still on hold with 911, and headed back for the highway.
“It was such a miracle,” he detailed. “Two cars ahead, I saw my wife’s car.”
After reuniting, they caravanned to Denver, where they were able to secure one of the last available hotel rooms in the city. On Wednesday, however, they were looking for longer-term accommodations.
Back in Colorado Springs, reports indicated that upwards of 1,000 firefighters have been mobilized to fight the blaze. On Wednesday morning, it was just five percent contained. People like the Liberows have no idea how their homes, community centers and synagogues have fared.
“We had a community member who was able to get the police to let him back into the area around the Chabad House to save the Torah scrolls,” said Zelda Liberow, who has been working the phones to see if their friends and neighbors need any help.
She and her husband have set up an emergency fund to deal with the disaster.
“Right now,” added Liberow, “all the firefighters are just trying to save as many homes as they can.”