Burned out and moved out
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
— July 15, 2014
Ardith Sehulster did everything right at her dream Sunshine Canyon home above Boulder, Colorado, serving on the neighborhood fire board, investing $40,000 in a fireproof roof, $5,000 cutting down trees and even more — paving a backyard tennis court.
Four years ago she and her husband Eugene Tidball saw distant flames from a forest fire. They evacuated their home of 25 years at 2:30 p.m., she with an address book and hard drive, he carrying two books, two bottles of water and financial records.
Two hours later, 4795 Sunshine Canon Drive burned down.
“It was a fire nobody could have stopped,” she said. “We saved nothing, nothing survived the fire.”
Sehulster and Tidball couldn’t return to their burned down home for days. When they did, the overwhelming scene steered their fate.
“Within 15 minutes of going up there and seeing the vast damage to our beautiful canyon, we said ‘We’re out of here’”.
Insurance covered a move into Boulder where they bought another home. “We were one of the lucky ones,” she said.
The couple owned 36 acres in Sunshine Canyon. There were about 160 homes in the neighborhood fire district. The 6,000-acre Fourmile Canyon Fire burned 60 of them.
“At the time it was the costliest loss in Colorado history,” she said.
“Of those 60 families, about 20 decided never to go back, 20 decided to rebuild and about 20 are still in the process of thinking,” Sehulster said.
“There also was a dividing between young and old,” she said. “We were one of the older couples.”
They thought it would take too long — two to three years to rebuild — and they would be living in a changed landscape. Also, town life turned out to be good.
“It’s beautiful,” she said of her new in-town home. “We have wonderful neighbors. We’re right in Boulder, right at the foot of the mountains.”
Sehulster treasures every minute of the 25 years she and her family, including a son and daughter, spent in Sunshine Canyon. She regrets the heart-wrenching loss of personal mementos, like the framed copy of her son’s sports column.
Material losses remain inconsequential, however, in the cycle of family life that included life-threatening health emergencies.
“This pales in comparison,” she said of the home burning.
Sehulster supports stricter building regulations, including those that would prohibit her “tinderbox” redwood siding and decks. “With some new regulations, maybe it will be harder to build in the mountains, and it should be,” she said.
Now the couple’s task is to stay connected, like they did at a Sunshine neighborhood party last week.
“We’re not giving up our friendships,” she said, “we’re just not going back to an area that’s burned.”
Sehulster covets her past life.
“I liked being thought of as a mountain gal,” she said. “I really miss that. I miss the quiet. I miss that solitude.”
Yet she can’t say whether she could spend another quarter of a century in Sunshine Canyon if she were a generation younger and knew what she knows today.
“I don’t think I’ve decided yet,” she said. “There’s some ambivalence.”
— Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He began working at the Jackson Hole News in 1978, and was editor of the Jackson Hole News and Jackson Hole News&Guide before joining WyoFile. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (307) 690-5586. Follow him @AngusThuermer.
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