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After enduring Katrina, Colorado woman must rebuild after wildfire

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 6:47 AM EDT, Fri June 21, 2013
Trudy Dawson's house burned down in the Colorado wildfire, about eight years after her family home was damaged by Hurricane Katrine.
Trudy Dawson's house burned down in the Colorado wildfire, about eight years after her family home was damaged by Hurricane Katrine.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Trudy Dawson lost her family home in Katrina, and her own home in a wildfire this week
  • Fire is the worse of the two, Colorado woman says: "It was total destruction this time."
  • She lost her possessions but has no regrets about evacuating when she did

(CNN) -- Her Colorado home destroyed by a natural disaster, Trudy Dawson stops to think about fire and water.

She is thinking about the wildfire that reduced her house near Colorado Springs to ashes this week and about the water that Hurricane Katrina pushed into her childhood home eight years ago.

"I sit back and reflect on the difference between flood and fire," Dawson said.

The 16,000-acre Black Forest Fire in Colorado claimed two lives and 500 structures.

Plumes of smoke rise above Del Norte Peak in Colorado on Sunday, June 23. Fires have been burning across Colorado since early June. Plumes of smoke rise above Del Norte Peak in Colorado on Sunday, June 23. Fires have been burning across Colorado since early June.
Wildfires spread across Colorado
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Photos: Wildfires spread across Colorado Photos: Wildfires spread across Colorado
Colorado family endures after wildfires
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Deciding when to let a house burn

Comparing what she witnessed at her parents' home in New Orleans when it was flooded by Katrina and the fire that engulfed her own home, Dawson knows which is worse. The fire.

With the flood, her family was able to salvage many items, even if they were waterlogged. The structure still stood.

"It was total destruction this time," she said of her Colorado home. "Everything was ashes. We were told by the fire chief that the intensity of the heat made my three-story house collapse."

Dawson, a psychotherapist, was at work on Monday when her daughter, who happened to be in town, alerted her to the fire.

Dawson got to her house in time to see the plumes of smoke and to receive the reverse-911 call to evacuate.

She gave herself 30 minutes to get out.

She and her daughter started with the electronics -- the computers and tablets that hold important records. Then the physical documents in her possession.

Time was ticking. They started grabbing clothes from the closets, not really paying attention to whether the items would actually be helpful.

"Emotions override any logic at that point," she said.

Dawson has two cats but could find only one. She had no way to transport the two horses she owns. She had to leave.

The horses survived, but every day Dawson remembers another special item that disappeared in the fire. She thinks: If she had just spent a few more minutes at her home, she could have saved some more treasured possessions.

But, she has heard, the two victims who perished had waited too long to evacuate, possibly trying to save those memorable items.

Thinking back to Katrina, Dawson recalls the look in her parents' eyes when they returned to their flooded home to see their losses.

There were six inches of sludge on the floor, and the family entered with boots and gloves, looking at what survived.

They found her father's World War II medals. And a china doll that had fallen from its case to the ground but had not broken. The story of the doll, which they named Katrina, was even featured in the Wall Street Journal. The doll still holds water that seeped in during the time it was submerged.

After this week's fire, though, there was nothing left of her house. Just a foundation and ashes.

"We walked around the house in amazement and horrified at what we saw," she said.

Beyond reflecting on the destructive powers of water and fire, however, Dawson is unwavering on her next step.

She will rebuild.

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