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6 Months After High Park Fire: ‘We’re Not All Better Yet. But We Will Be.’

It’s been almost six months since the High Park Fire destroyed 259 homes in the foothills north of Fort Collins. Since the fire started on June 9, homeowners like Sharon and Mike Guli have navigated the complex worlds of clean up, insurance claims, and rebuilding. But they still have a long road ahead.

The Gulis decided to move back onto their Paradise Park property after losing their home. Spared by the fire was a studio that they use for their Western history-themed businesses. Mike hand makes buckskin clothing. Sharon teaches classes and is a seamstress.

The work studio has a bedroom, kitchen and living area. Just outside the windows is a spectacular view with ponds and a mountain that’s charred on top.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

After completing their insurance paperwork, the couple is deciding how to spend the money they received. A large chunk went to pay off the mortgage on the home they lost.

“We’re so grateful that this building survived and we can live in it,” says Sharon. “What we have to decide to do is, yes, do we rebuild another house where the old one was and keep this as workspace? Or what we’re talking of doing is remodeling and revamping and making this nice living space and maybe rebuild a studio up there, and flip the purposes of the two buildings.”

Sharon says it’s overwhelming to think about everything that has to be done on the property. That prompted us to ask how living on the land has emotionally affected the couple.

It’s very emotional,” says Mike. “I have been here 31 plus years. I knew every nail in that building.”

When you’re up here every day and when I go to hang the laundry. You have to be careful only to air dry at certain times so it doesn’t smell like smoke. And when every day you have to look at that black mountain and you’re used to it being beautiful and green. It was a reality check,” says Sharon.

In the short term, the Guli’s are focused on removing dead and burnt trees on their property and building a shed on their property before winter completely sets in.

At the same time, both are trying to keep their businesses going. Sharon summed up the difficulty or managing the emotional and work challenges this way:

“It feels good to get back into the saddle and when the phone starts to ring again it's feeling good. But every once and a while I have to stop and breathe and pull my head back together because we’re not all better yet. But we will be.”


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