BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — More than 40 families at Louisville Middle School completely lost their homes in the Marshall Fire, and about the same number were displaced for weeks or longer. Those students had to adjust to a new reality, looking to their school — which was untouched by the flames — as both a place to delve into the tough questions they were facing as well as a respite from them.
A handful of sixth graders chose to use an assignment in their English class as an avenue for both.
Below are five short stories written entirely by them, with guidance from their teacher Ms. Rebecca O’Connor. Some are autobiographical, telling exactly what they went through moment by moment as the Marshall Fire destroyed their homes. Some are historical fiction, combining the students’ own experiences and that of their friends with scenes they saw in the media that day. Each one shows the students working to come to grips with their thoughts and emotions, and then putting them on paper to share with others.
Each of the below stories is published exactly as written by the young authors.
"The Great Fire" by Dossett Jones
I burst out of bed.
“Mom, what was that?”
I ran downstairs to see what it was; but to my surprise mom and dad were already down there.
“What's going on?” I asked while walking down the stairs.
I was staring at the TV by now, along with mom and dad. Mom's eyes were wide and looked puffy because she had been crying. Dad's eyes were glued to the TV. He had his fist in his mouth to stop him from doing whatever he was going to do.
“Houses all around Harper Lake are in the red zone! EVERYONE EVACUATE NOW!” That is all the TV could get out before the cable cut out.
“Pack all of your things! We need to leave!” Mom yelled in horror.
My breath got heavier as I ran upstairs to pack everything. Running up the stairs made me cry. Was this the last time I would ever be in her house again? I got to my room and all I could do was keep crying.
“Natalie, are you almost done? We need to leave now!” Dad said as if he wasn't scared..
“Don’t leave” I say in my head to my home.
*In the Car*
As my family was driving all I could think about was if that was the last time in my house. I could see the flames as we were driving. They were heading straight to my house.
“If our house burns down, I want the biggest room in the next one!” Dan, my younger brother shouted as if he didn’t care. Nobody said anything to Dan, the car was silent for a while till we got to the hotel.
*At the Hotel*
The hotel looked like one right out of a movie. The long front desk with sad front desk workers. The elevator exploded out with a mob of people, some checking out, some just checking in. The coffee bar was closed and dark because it was after hours. I could tell my mom was disappointed. The smell of the leftovers from dinner coming from the tap house. I was feeling overwhelmed with all the people, and smells.
“Do you have a room reservation? Because if you don’t we won't have any more rooms.” The lady at the front desk said.
The hotel has a smell like a doctor's office. Dan ran to the tap room because he could smell mac-n-cheese. Oh wait, now I smell it, not a doctor's office, but like freshly cooked steak.
“I’m coming Dan! Wait for me!”
The steak was amazing, and I am sure Dan thought that the mac-n-cheese was good too.
My dad was still talking to the lady.
“Yes we do. I just called in and someone told me that you have two more rooms that we could take.”
“Oh yes those were the last rooms. What is the reservation name under?”
“John Smith,” Dad said.
The lady led us up to the room.
“Wow!” Dan screamed in excitement. “This is where we're staying?!”
The room looked like a normal hotel room. Although Dan has never been to a hotel in his life. I could tell he was excited because of his face. His jaw was almost on the ground.
Dad turned on the TV to see what was happening.
“HOUSES AROUND HARPER LAKE BURNING! ALL HOUSES ENGULFED IN FLAMES!” The news reporter said in disbelief. “This is the worst fire in all of Colorado history!” I was in disbelief.
“Dad, was that the last time we would see our house?” I asked dad.
“I don’t know honey,” Mom answered for him.
I was still in disbelief. Maybe this was a good thing. I mean I do share a room with Dan, so maybe in the new house I won’t have to. Well I know Dan would be very happy if the house did burn. A few hours later we heard the bad news.
“Yes, ok. We understand.” My dad said while he was on the phone. “Guys, I am so sorry.”
I just knew what he was going to tell us.
“Our house is gone, isn't it?” I said. “Mom, all my clothes were in there. Can we go shopping?!”
Mom did take me shopping a few days after.
“The Great Fire is making my head spin,” Dan shouted across the room. “My head is really spinning!”
Nobody can understand Dan because he is only six and has no way of knowing grammar.
*A few months later*
It's finally the day. We are starting to rebuild. Maybe soon we will be able to move into our new house, but for now we are in a really nice rental.
"Nothing Could Go Wrong" by Jack Fisher
When I got out of bed, my little sister, Maria, was not on the bottom bunk anymore. She had probably moved to my mom and dad's bed. She was so afraid of the dark, and she always fled for safety. Of course, I was too excited to care because today was my birthday party. And so, I walked out of my room, bounded down the oak hardwood stairs to the birch hardwood floor of the kitchen, and grabbed myself some milk.
My older sister, Evelynn, came down the stairs about an hour later. I had always looked up to her; she was brave, beautiful, and kind. Her enchanting brown eyes, lush brown-black hair, and smile that burned through the room like a fire burns its way through a haystack.
“Good job, Jonathan! You got a victory royale!” My sister said happily
“Hey, Jonathan! You're happy that you can't jaywalk anymore because you’re 12?”
“Yayy!” I sarcastically retorted. All my friends laughed in unison.
“So, what are we doing for your party? Are we gonna go to a trampoline park?”
“Nope! Mom said I could have an all-nighter, we could play video games all night!” I replied, jolly as ever. It was right after Christmas and everybody was in a jovial mood.
Nothing could go wrong.
An hour after my friends showed up we came back inside. “Man! I’m pretty tired after our wiffle ball game, guys!” Danny exclaimed.
“Yeah! That grand slam you hit was awesome!” I replied.
Mom, dad, and Evelynn all burst into me and Maria’s gloomy bedroom.“Jonathan! Maria! You need to wake up! We have to pack up in case we have to evacuate!”
“Wh-What?” I looked at my clock, “It's 1:00 A.M. why would we have to leave?”
“Overnight, fires started in the mountains, and everybody in Louisville is forced to prepare for evacuation!”
Me and Maria got our PJ’s off and put our clothes on as fast as possible, sprinted to brush our teeth, and gathered all our belongings. We stuffed all we could into our separate suitcases, but I was struggling because I had a small suitcase the size of a Pitbull. Then the siren blared, sounding the evacuation. A fire had started in Superior, about 5 miles away from our house. We stuffed everything we could into our bags and left. I went to the bathroom as I knew it would be a long drive, and when I came back, they were gone. They left without me.
They left me behind like they would a plastic bag in the wind. I sprint into the garage, to see the door open and the fire blazing only a mile away, and no car, or family, in sight.
Whoosh! I feel the wind flying past me as I sprint to my neighbors house, only to see it destroyed. Once the smoke got thicker, I made a decision as my body started sweating, coughing up all the reserves of air I have left and inhaling the smoke. I realized I no longer have my parents to help me; I need to be independent. I run, all I ever do is run.
An hour later, surrounded by the deadly pink skies that signaled danger, I had lost all the adrenaline I had. I'm exhausted, tired, and weak. I snapped back to reality and I realized I was surrounded by fire. I take a break, and I’ll die. I thought.
The sight of red walls dancing around me was like being surrounded by a burning mountain. I surveyed the land for a few seconds and realized that I’m in Superior now, instead of Louisville with brick houses with metal roofing looming over me. The pointy but also somehow rounded town hall going down in flames, just like my confidence. I was scared. The wall of fire 1000 feet tall made me realize that I'm only one tiny piece of a gigantic puzzle. I feel like my lungs are slowly turning to ashes. I can taste my fear, and the only smell I remember at this point is smoke. I don’t know what time it is. I turn to run, but realize I'm on a one way road. I struggle to breathe; I’m wheezing at this point. I start to lose consciousness, then black…
“Jonathan!” My mom yells, “Are you okay? Come on, wake up, wake up! I know you can do it!” She weeps, then cries, then bawls.
Black… Gray… White… Then my mom. I cough and talk like there's a frog in my throat, “Mom… You left me. Why?” I start crying.
‘Sweetie! We never left! We were in the basement. And when we came up, you were gone!” She weeped.
“Ma’am, we need to get your son to the hospital, he inhaled a lot of smoke,” announced the firefighter with his deep and rough voice. I was tired and needed a break, and I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before my head hit the concrete.
I woke up in a hospital bed. Once I fully woke up, I realized my whole family was sitting beside me on my bed. One of them, my mom, was still crying, smudged makeup, while my dad squeezed her hand, saying it would be okay. I also realized three other people.
After a few seconds, I recognised them as Preston, Danny, and Miles. They were stooping in the corner, hoping their friend would make it.
“Don’t worry guys, I’m awake. As long as you're around, nothing could ever go wrong. Nothing could ever go wrong…”
“Goodnight, Sweetheart!” Mom softly tells me as I drift off to sleep back in my own bed in our house on the once forested hill.
Our house was rebuilt, and we were back in our cozy two-story house.
Right as I was about to hit the hay, my sister walked in. “I need you, and I’m never gonna let you go again.” I croaked.
"The Fire That Changed My Life" by Samson Kogler
“Sagamore’s gone,” I heard the news broadcaster say. I fell to the ground. I lost my cat; then this it’s too much, I thought. I could not sleep. I just laid there and I cried. I have Jacob, Dylan, Dad, Mom, and Bennett. At least I have them, but this has to be a dream. This stuff only happens on the news. It would never happen to us. A fire can't just happen in December.
On that sunny, winter day, none of us could have predicted the loss we had in store…
I walked down that stairs, and I saw Dylan on the couch.
“Hey Dylan, are you excited to go to the movie?” I asked.
“Yeah, you?” He asked back.
“Yeah, I am. Do you know where dad and Jacob are?” I asked.
“They are right here, are you blind?” he declared, looking kind of puzzled.
“Yeah, are you blind? I am right here and dad is over there,” Jacob yelled angrily.
I look back and I see Dad in the kitchen and then Jacob on the couch with Dylan.
“Hey, the wind is picking up. Dylan, can you help me take the volleyball net down?” my Dad asked.
It was a few days after Christmas and the volleyball net was one of the big gifts. We had just moved to Colorado a few months ago. For Christmas we got a volleyball net and a ping pong table in the basement, two really cool presents for our new home.
“Ok,” Dylan said as he got up and went to the net.
I hopped on to my Ipad and played with Jacob until my Dad and Dylan came back from taking down the volleyball net.
“Sam, we’ll put it back up for your birthday Ok?” my Dad said.
“Ok, yeah, that’s fine I can wait,” I said, not too depressed. My birthday is at the beginning of January.
We all did our own things around the house, as I heard the wind picking up outside. All of a sudden, I hear Dylan shouting. “Guys Come Here! Guys Now!” It was Dylan, it seemed urgent.
We ran downstairs and then we saw it in the backyard. Red clouds. Embers were landing in the yard. A fire storm, heading our way.
“Guys, that’s not good.We should probably stay inside and go into the basement. We can play ping pong. Ok?,” Dad suggests, nervously.
We were going down to the basement and then we heard the smoke alarm go off.
“I will try to stop the alarm, you guys wear a mask. Ok?” He yelled. I could tell he was getting more and more worried.
Then we got a call from my mom's cousin. She told us to get out of there.
“Guys, do you remember our last family meeting? Remember that question? ‘If you only had five minutes, what would you get from the house?’ Well it’s time to do that. Ok, guys?” My dad tries to remain calm as he grabs the important papers from the safe
We ran around the house. I ran up to my room I looked for my favorite stuffed animal. It was an orca named Bellyful, my iPad, and my English mastiff named Benett. Then we left.
We crammed into Dad’s small car, all four of us, and a 220lb dog. It felt like we might never get out of the smoke. Eventually we got to my mom’s work which has a living quarters. We met up with my mom and then we watched the news. They called it the Marshall Fire.
“Sagamore’s gone, all of it.” I heard the news broadcaster say. I fell to the ground. “No!” I screamed. No no no no no I thought.
I looked up and I walked to my family. Their faces were blank with tears in their eyes. They are hunched on the couch. “It can only get better from here,” I said as I fell in their lap, and we hugged. “We have each other so we are fine.”
My mom turned off the TV pulled me closer and said, “Yes sweetie, you are right,” she said it with her heart golden and hopeful, and her voice as delicate as a bird's.
We hugged each other; my dad said, “Yes, you both get it, you both get it.” He was like a house so sturdy in the ground. He was anchored to this family.
When we could, we went to our old house to see the damage. The trees died, the house was gone, the sky was black. The ash was everywhere. We looked at our house and we saw the handle of the cast iron skillet. It was supposed to be unburnable. It was gone like everything else. We had our masks on but we still smelt the ash in the air. It was all gone, and we saw the sadness on all of the other people's faces. We felt the same.
We left my mom’s work three days after we lost our home and we moved into a hotel to celebrate my birthday. It was nice and fun, but we all had a little to cope with. That night I wept. I have Jacob, Dylan, my Dad, my Mom, and Bennett, my dog. At least I have them.
My school didn’t burn down, so we moved back, close to the old house. After we left the hotel we moved to a small apartment at Bell Flat Irons for seven months. It was a little cramped, but now we are renting a house in Louisville, Colorado.
“Hey Dylan, thanks for coming and visiting us again,” Dad said, hugging his son.
“Ya Dylan, do you want to watch some TV?” I asked.
“Okay,” he responded.
“You know boys, maybe it was not so bad after all,” Mom said, filled with joy.
“What was not so bad?” Jacob asked.
“The fire,” Mom answered.
I announced, “Yeah, I still go by my words back then, ‘It can only get better from here. If we have each other.’” I know it will.
"Life’s Journey" by Carolyn Estrada
I wake up with bright orange and yellow colors beaming down on my face. I look over at my clock, with my eyes barely open.
“Charlie!” my little sister screams as loud as a stadium full of people.
“Yes?” I replied tiredly.
“Happy birthday!” she exclaims while hugging me.
I completely forgot it was my birthday today! I'm turning twelve. I get out of bed and stroll over to my dresser to pick out my clothes. I decided to wear my favorite sweatshirt and ripped jeans. My mom expertly twists my thick brown hair in two french braids. I can already tell it’s going to be a cold, crisp day in late November.
I pick up my phone and see tons of text messages that say: Happy Birthday!
I jump down the stairs. It smells like homemade waffles. My favorite! I gulp down breakfast.
I praise my mom for everything, and my dad leads me out the door.
“Happy birthday, Charlie!” Alex yells.
Alex is my best friend and next-door neighbor. She is the best person in the world. I walk to school with her every morning. She rushes up to me and gives me a big hug. I smile with joy.
“Here’s a gift,” she tells me while handing it over.
I took off the wrapping to see a necklace with a pink jewel inside of it.
“Thank you!” I responded. “It's beautiful!”
When we get to the school, I step through the doors and head off to my first period.
Right after school, I have soccer practice. I find Alex and the rest of my carpool and drive to soccer. It was so cold, but it had started to warm up as the days went on in the month. The soccer ball rolls around on the wet grass and whoosh! Straight into the goal it went, like the most powerful person had just kicked it.
It had been a lengthy day, and I needed some rest. It was a good birthday, I think to myself while laying in bed.
* * *
The sun is bright, and I’m wearing shorts, which is unusual because it is December, and it’s supposed to be snowing! But I can’t think about that. I have a soccer game to go to. Right as I pull up to the fields, a gust of wind picks up my bag and blows it across the street. The wind is so strong it’s like there’s a tornado!
“What the-” I think.
“Charlie?” I can make out a faint voice.
“Alex!” I yell, “Where did this wind come from?”
“I don’t know, but I think our soccer game is canceled,” she exclaims.
Just at that moment, our coach pulled up.
“Get out of here!” he shrieks. “It’s too windy to play!”
I need to find my mom to drive me home.
Once I get in my mom's minivan, I’m sad I can’t play. My mom wants to show me how high the winds were on her phone. I take the phone and the notification forenames that they are 115 mph! That seems very unusual.
Ding! a notification goes off.
I hand my mom her phone so she can see it. I look up at my mom, who looks as sick as a patient in a hospital.
“Mom?” I question with a slight head shake. “Everything okay?”
Just then, we pull up into the driveway. Mom rushes over to Alex’s house and starts banging on their door.
“MOM!” I scream. “What are you doing?!” I’m so confused.
Before she can respond, Alex's mom flings open the door.
“Did you hear?” my mom asks.
“Yes, we’re packing,” Alex’s mom says, looking sick. Her skin looks green.
“Charlie, come here!” Mom yells across the yard.
I run over as fast as my legs could take me.
“Charlie! Pack your bags!” My mom tells me. “We have to evacuate.”
Evacuate. That is a word I didn’t like. That’s a life-changing word sometimes. I don’t even question her. I run into the house and stuff all of my belongings into three large duffel bags. Last was my phone. I pick it up to see five hundred messages! I open them up.That’s when I find out. There’s a fire. And it was coming straight for our town, faster than a race car.
I run outside to see Alex with three duffel bags, just like me, tears dripping down her face. A tear drips down my own face. Then they keep coming. I run up to her and hug her the hardest I ever have. I’m crying like a river.
“It’ll be okay,” she said with a slight smile on her face.
I smiled wearily back.
After we settled down, both Alex and I’s families drove in the same car to Alex’s mountain house. It would normally take us about 2 hours to get there, but since the whole town was leaving it took us 6! We kept each other company, and our little sisters were hanging out in the back. We got to the place, and it was genuinely cozy and had a lot of wood. I cherished going here. Once we unpacked, we didn’t know what was going on, so we decided to turn on the news. But the channel wasn’t just on our local news, it was on the channel the whole US can see. I knew that meant it had to be big. We sat and watched, and watched until we saw our neighborhood. My stomach dropped. I clenched my fists. All I saw was a big bold red flame, and I ran to my room. I grabbed a pillow and smashed my f ride back home. I just stared out the window with butterflies in my stomach, knowing I wouldn’t see my house ever again.
Two hours later, I saw the first house crumble to the ground. Now I knew what I was to expect.
There it was. When I saw the turn that would take us into our neighborhood, my whole body felt shaky. I could smell the ashes. I could feel sweat dripping down my face. I was terrified. Then, I saw my dad spinning the wheel right into what was once, “home.”
When we pulled up I couldn’t recognize my house at first, because nothing seemed to be there. Or anywhere. But I saw it. Right there. All that was left standing was our brick doorway. It kind of looked like a monument to me. Ashes were blowing through the dusty sky, landing one by one on the crumbled ground.
Just then, Alex put her arm around me, and whispered, “We are in this together.”
And at that moment I saw hope that everything was going to be okay.
I didn’t know this yet, I figured out our entire soccer complex burned down! But I had to deal. At least all of the people I knew and cared about were okay.
I was living with my grandparents until we could find a place to rent, but we were going to rebuild. It was weird not seeing Alex every day, but I got way more family time.
“Charlie!” My grandma called.
“Coming!” I responded.
I walked down the old stairs to see my grandma sitting on the couch.
“Cards?” she asked, holding them out.
“Sure,” I responded with a smile.
Even though it wasn’t the normal life that I was used to, I still loved it. Someday, I thought, it will all be normal again. But until then, I just needed to enjoy the little things. Those are what brought me through.
"The Fire" by Harmony Cano Caballero
One day, I was in my house when I heard a BOOM! I started to run to the door, but before I got there, I heard Knock, Knock, Knock. I opened the door and it was my neighbor. He was freaking out.
“You’ve got to go now,” he said.
“Okay!” I said. “Just calm down. It will be okay, I promise.”
“You gotta go NOW because there is a fire.”
“What?” I said.
I told my mom, dad, and my brother, Martin, “We’ve got to go now.” I got my dog. I was shaking. I ran out of my house and went in the car. My mom, brother, and dad got in the car.
We called my aunt and asked, “Can we come to your house?” She said yes. I said,
“Okay, we are on our way now.”
“Okay, I will see you all soon,” she replied.
“Okay, bye,” I said. When we finally got there, we sat down. I said, “Can you put on the news please so we can watch it?” It was so sad to see all the houses burning. I was so sad and I was shaking so badly. We just turned the news off and my cousins and I played a game so I could get my mind off of the fire. Then we went to bed.
The next day, my aunt made oatmeal for us. We said goodbye, then went to our house. I was so happy to get back to my house and I was so grateful that my house did not burn down. I was so happy to still have my house, but sadly, my friend's house burnt down. But thank you, God, that mine did not burn down. I was so grateful to still have my family and my house.
Thank you, God.