CBS News reported fires burning in the Ruidoso, New Mexico area recently, which triggered memories for me.

Eleven years ago this month, the West Fork Complex East Zone FIRE erupted where we lived in southern Colorado.

As the name West Fork Complex implies, multiple fires surrounded our home in the Rio Grande National Forest. Lightning started all three fires that exploded into forests of heavy dead timber and pine bark beetle-infested pines.

That experience changed my whole outlook on the words we hear so often during hurricanes, fires, and floods: mandatory evacuation.

Our skies looked like this.

At first, there was no raised concern because forest fires in the summer are a common occurrence in Colorado. We lived with the smoke and kept going. Ashes landed on our decks and in our yards, on our houses and cars, and on us as the fire encroached upon our world.

That’s black ashes. It was everywhere, inside and outside.

At first, there was too much wind, too high elevations, and too much dead tree fuel to risk the lives of firefighters. Instead, they watched the West Fork fire closely.

Life became scary as we gathered in the Community Center to get details and updates.

We heard words I’d only heard applied to hurricanes – pre-evacuation notice. Reverse 911 calls began with updates on the status coming in. At six a.m. on Friday, June 21, 2013, the scary message came:

MANDATORY EVACUATION: be out by 10 a.m.

Thanks to Bob Mayer’s The Green Beret Preparation and Survival Guide we were prepared. It’s a super book with lists of what you need to have ready in case of any emergency. Buy a copy here.

We finished loading our cars with possessions we wanted to save and left not knowing if we’d have a house when we returned. From our rearview mirror:

By the time the fires were contained on July 15, 2013, a total of 109,049 acres of public and private land had been destroyed. Amazingly no deaths and only a few structures were lost. It was the third-largest wildfire in Colorado history and cost about $33 million to fight.

Hopefully, those affected by the Ruidoso, New Mexico fire left when their Mandatory Evacuation order came. We’ve been there, done that and it’s not easy.