11:43am

Mon December 24, 2012
Wildfires

High Park Fire Couple Mark First Christmas After Losing Home

The holidays are a time for celebration, but they also provide a space for reflection.

KUNC has been following one couple who lost their home to this summer’s High Park Fire. Like the other 258 homeowners who lost property and personal belongings, they’re struggling to maintain old traditions this season—while making new ones.

Sharon and Mike Guli have had a lot of “firsts” over the past six months. And this week marks another one: the first Christmas since the fire. It will also be the first time that one of Mike’s sons returns from his home in China to see the fire’s destruction.

“One of the interesting things is he said, ‘Dad, I want to go up and cut a Christmas tree.’ I said ‘There are no Christmas trees left. The woods are gone.’ So that was an interesting conversation we had.”

The Guli’s aren’t alone in losing this tradition. The High Park Fire incinerated inventory for most choose and cut Christmas tree businesses in Rist Canyon. But for Adam, who hasn’t yet seen the High Park Fire destruction, Sharon knows he’s in for a surprise.

“He’s seen photographs that we’ve shared online and in emails. And he’s been practical and encouraging to his dad and I since this all happened. But seeing it for real and seeing it face to face. And when we mentioned it’s not the same Christmas tree scenario,” she says. “What few little perfect Christmas trees are here we’re going to let them grow big.”

It’s a small adjustment. But it’s one of a million changes Sharon and Mike have had to make since the fire. They continue to live on their land in a studio building in which they run their historic clothing businesses.

“We’re finding it’s coming in stages. We’ll take a week and a half going all out cutting down trees, taking volunteer help, hiring people. And then we have to stop and shift back into business mode, and we pour ourselves into whatever deadlines need to be met immediately. We get that caught up. Then we shift back to the land. Then we shift back to the business,” says Sharon.

A view of the Guli's land. On the mountainside, many of the trees are charred.
Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

While finding physical breaks is hard, finding mental and emotional ones is even harder when you’re living on the land where your home was destroyed. Both Mike and Sharon say they are looking for the slower pace of the holidays to catch their breath.

“I can’t continually focus on the land right now,” says Mike. “I’ll take a timeout and focus on the next phase.”

Sharon adds: “We’re going to try to take the next 2-4 weeks and go to family, relaxing, the holidays and what work has to be done for the business in that time."

…and while it wasn’t exactly what their son, Adam was looking for, they traveled into Fort Collins and bought a small Christmas tree--decorating it with the ornaments and tinsel they salvaged from the fire.