BOULDER, Colo. — Hours before the first snowstorm of the 2021-22 winter season could provide a safety blanket over Colorado's front range, the most devastating wildfire in the state's history rolled through Boulder County.
"We woke up like a normal day yesterday and the family got together and we had a day of going out together. We went out to get a pizza and went to the grocery store and my oldest daughter got a text message from a friend of hers in the neighborhood saying they were evacuating us," University of Colorado linebackers coach Mark Smith said." We left thinking we'd come back to our house, and then everything's gone. So you just have the clothes that you're wearing that day, and not even a toothbrush."
Smith, his wife Michelle, and their three children, Makenna, Mailey Kay, and Micah, have been Boulder residents in the Spanish Hills neighborhood for less than a year, only since he joined the Buffs staff in February 2021. But no amount of time takes away the pain of losing a home and the memories built inside of those walls.
"Devastating, of course for our family and for all other families that were affected by this, whether you've been here for 20 years or you've been here for one," he said. "It was a challenging day. We're still sorting through that. The emotions go from smiling through the memories of what we've been able to enjoy in this home and then crying about what was lost."
Mark, Michelle, and Micah were allowed to assess the damage for the first time around 1:30pm on Friday afternoon -- approximately 24 hours after the fire swept through their neighborhood. The cement base and iron railings remained, but the rest of the house was decimated.
After posting a message to social media about his initial thoughts of the property, the support from the surrounding area flooded in. The Smiths gained the understanding that to be a Buff means to have a built-in family for life.
"Pouring of support from the CU community, and especially CU Buffs community. Coach Karl Dorrell and his wife reached out to me and my wife to check in on us. Everyone in the coaching staff checked in on us. Rick George, our Athletic Director, reached out as well to say what can we do, anything we can do to help," he said. "There's been so many helping hands in this community and I think that says so much about the university and the greater Boulder area."
And as the snow settled on what was once ashes, a new perspective was also born.
"We're struggling. It has been challenging, but there's a feeling of gratefulness that in our family, everyone is well, and from reports it appears everyone in our neighborhood is the same way, and that's the most important part," he said.
The Smiths, and the Boulder County community will rebuild.
"We will. Shoulder to Shoulder," he said.