With support from Boulder Creek Neighborhoods, a family returns home after the Marshall Fire
In the raw, smoldering days after the Marshall Fire of Dec. 30, 2021, the team at Boulder Creek Neighborhoods grieved with their neighbors. “We’re based in Louisville, we’ve been building in Louisville and Superior for many years and we live in and love this community,” said Bridgette Cole, Boulder Creek Neighborhoods’ director of external projects. “We wanted to see people back in their homes and their communities restored, so although at first we weren’t sure exactly how to go about it, we never doubted we would be there, as a builder in our neighborhood, helping in whatever way we could.”
New Year’s celebrations were canceled, and emergency meetings were convened. “We decided we could be most effective by analyzing the lot sizes impacted by the fire and drawing up a series of floor plans, which we called New Beginnings,” Cole explained. “We are doing something we’ve never done before.” Until the fire, the lifestyle builder had specialized in developing new neighborhoods on undeveloped land, with a focus on efficient, lower-maintenance homes. “We really had to adjust our way of thinking to design homes for individual lots,” she said. “We were working one-on-one with families on their unique insurance and financial situations and learning the changing fire codes and requirements, which were different in Superior and Louisville.”
Boulder Creek Neighborhoods drafted 13 floor plans to meet various lot constraints and homeowner preferences, then gathered for hours with families to answer questions. To date, nearly 100 homeowners have selected Boulder Creek Neighborhoods to rebuild on their lot, and 16 months after the fire, Boulder Creek has already turned over the first home, Aimee and Bryan Ross’ new home in the Superior subdivision of Sagamore.
Escaping the fire
“I will never forget that day as long as I live,” Bryan said, referring to the Marshall Fire. “At the same time, Superior is home, and I wanted to try to come back.” The Rosses raised two sons in their Sagamore home, where Bryan trimmed roses and helped neighbors with their landscaping. Sports fans, the Rosses especially enjoyed relaxing while watching a game or playing with their grandchildren “in the cozy little home we had,” Aimee said. “It was a quiet neighborhood with a warm perfect feeling.”
On the afternoon of the fire, Aimee was working in an office in Lafayette, while Bryan was homesick, sleeping on the couch when his mom happened to call. “She didn’t know about the fire but was just calling, maybe mother’s intuition. That call saved my life,” Bryan said. “But even though she woke me up, I was confused. It was smoky in the house, and I had fire brain and froze.” He phoned Aimee and said the bushes behind their home were burning. She suggested he pull out a hose.
“Then I looked out the office window,” she recalled, “and called him back immediately.” Dark smoke and rising flames were hurtling toward Sagamore. With Aimee talking him through what to do – “get out, get out now, grab your truck keys and go” – and with nothing except his phone, Bryan dove into his truck and escaped the fire, by then engulfing the top floor of their home. He tried to drive out two neighborhood exits, also enflamed, before jumping his truck across a grassy strip between two columns of fire; the truck was later declared totaled by smoke damage.
Aimee, meanwhile, attempted to drive home and was turned around. “I told Bryan to meet me at a gas station,” Aimee said. “I waited about 15 minutes; it felt like two hours.” Every home in their neighborhood was destroyed. “What mattered,” said Aimee, “was that Bryan was alive.”
They fled to a relative’s home and eventually rented a house as a temporary residence. “I don’t remember much from that time,” said Bryan. “I do remember having to fight to get out.”
With Boulder Creek Neighborhoods, hope and empathy
The months since the fire has been hard in a myriad of ways, yet “the work and anticipation of rebuilding and the care from Boulder Creek Neighborhoods” has given hope to both Aimee and Bryan, she said. Bryan joined a Slack channel with neighbors to discuss rebuilding and attended a community expo to explore construction options. “I talked to a lot of different builders, and Boulder Creek did nothing but impress me,” he said. “Their communication was great – they were very upfront, very prepared – and I knew their excellent reputation.”
The Rosses signed a letter of intent with Boulder Creek Neighborhoods within weeks and settled on a floor plan “nothing like the old house,” Aimee said. “The garage is on the other side, the kitchen is on the other side, everything is opposite.” Aimee is most excited about the pantry: “It’s huge and amazing,” she said. “I never had a pantry, and I just love it.” They moved in this month, more than half a year ahead of schedule. “We know not every family will have the opportunity to move in so quickly, but we are working expedite timelines wherever we can,” Cole noted.
Aimee and Bryan’s new home is roomier than their last and includes a finished basement, “extra nice for when the grandchildren visit,” Aimee said. They personalized the home with guidance from Boulder Creek’s professional designers and are relishing “the little things that come together to mean so much in a home, like the brick around the fireplace,” she added.
The move, they agreed, was easy, given that “we didn’t have much,” Bryan said. “We’re excited, but there’s nervousness too.” Bryan is working with a therapist, as his anxiety spiked after the fire, and the return to Sagamore is raising joyful and difficult emotions. Aimee said, “It’s been a really long rough road, but working with Boulder Creek Neighborhoods and the amazing people there has made this whole rebuild process go so much smoother, thanks to their kindness, compassion and attention to detail.”
Boulder Creek has been mindful from the first days after the fire that “these are homeowners who didn’t want to look for a new house,” Cole said. “It can be traumatic and taxing to have to rebuild, and our whole team is thankful and honored that we can give these families more than just a home, but a new start on life, a gift of hope.”
By Sarah Huber for At Home Colorado