Monotony of shelter life for wildfire evacuees

July 1, 2012 - 7:05 PM
Western Wildfires Evacuees Story

This June 27, 2012 photo shows Simone Covey, center, a 26-year-old single mother of three, sitting on a cot with her children and nephew at a Red Cross shelter in Colorado Springs, Colo., where they are staying after the Waldo Canyon Fire forced them from their home. Covey doesn't know if the apartment was damaged by the fire, which has destroyed hundreds of homes and has so far forced mandatory evacuations for more than 32,000 residents. Pictured from left to right are Emma Covey, 6; Covey's nephew, Zack Miller, 5; Simone Covey; Logan Thompson-Covey, 2 and Nyomie Covey, 5. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1:

Spending almost a week in an evacuation shelter as a single mother of three young children gets old.

On Sunday, 26-year-old Simone Covey broke up the monotony by having her face painted while keeping a close eye on her youngest, Logan, who just turned 3 on Saturday.

They'd celebrated by splashing around kiddie pools.

More than 30,000 people evacuated from their homes after the Waldo Canyon fire raced down a mountainside into Colorado Springs on Tuesday. Almost 350 homes were damaged or destroyed.

By Sunday, the number of evacuees was down to 10,000 — and was set to dwindle to 3,000 by day's end as more neighborhoods reopened.

As people went home, the Red Cross evacuation shelter at Cheyenne Mountain High School began to feel empty. A couple people lay on cots set up in the gymnasium. Others made use of donated computers.

Covey and her children — including her girls, 5 and 6 — were among those who remained.

"We just can't bring my oldest daughter home until we know how bad the smoke is, because she has bad asthma," she said.

Covey said her mother, who also had been evacuated, planned to stop by the family's apartment to sniff for smoke. They hoped to return Monday.

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Friday, June 29:

Simone Covey walked anxiously into the Red Cross shelter Thursday evening after organizers called a closed meeting for evacuees. The purpose: To inform residents if their homes had been destroyed by the massive Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs. One by one, street names were read off, indicating which areas had been heavily damaged.

Covey, a 26-year-old single mother of three who was told to leave her sister's apartment Tuesday evening, did not hear her sister's street name called — providing a little bit of relief after spending two nights in the shelter.

"I was really happy, but I was still sad for everybody whose road was on there," she said.

The 26-square-mile fire forced more than 30,000 people out of their homes and is believed to be responsible for at least two deaths.

Many residents, including Covey, were told Friday their evacuation orders had been lifted, but she said she and her children would stay at the shelter at Cheyenne Mountain High School until they are absolutely sure it is safe to return home.

"That way the kids won't have to readjust and then freak out" if they are evacuated again, she said. "I don't want to do it again, so we'll wait and see what happens."

In the meantime, Covey said she is trying to keep her kids busy and is enjoying a less crowded and quieter shelter. Rows of cots set up outside to be sanitized indicated that many people had already left.

Covey said that, despite the circumstances, she is still planning a birthday party for her son, Logan, who turns 3 on Saturday.

More presents have been donated, and now she is just looking for something to wrap them in.

"We'll do something for my son's birthday, and then we'll go back and have a real birthday," she said.

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Thursday, June 28:

"Overheated, "stressed," ''nervous" and "tired." Those were some of the feelings Simone Covey said she was experiencing after spending her second night at the Red Cross shelter in the Cheyenne Mountain High School gymnasium.

Covey was one of hundreds seeking refuge in shelters from the Colorado Springs, Colo., fire and among more than 30,000 forced to flee by the blaze that continued to burn.

She said Wednesday night was especially hard because her oldest daughter, 6-year-old Emma, suffered an asthma attack, overheated and vomited in the bathroom.

Covey also complained about the heat, saying she couldn't fall asleep until 1 a.m.

Meanwhile, her son Logan will turn 3 on Saturday, and Covey said she was upset because she had to leave Logan's presents at her sister's apartment during the rush of the evacuation. She said she didn't know how she was going to celebrate the birthday because "I have no money at all."

Covey received a few gifts for her son from a local charity, and the Red Cross has promised to make the day special.

But beyond the day-to-day inconveniences of living in a shelter, one of Covey's biggest concerns is the fate of her sister's home. She said the media have reported that the fire line is dangerously close — just a few blocks away.

"It keeps jumping from house to house," Covey said.

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Wednesday, June 27:

The Waldo Canyon wildfire forced thousands of people away from their homes and into Red Cross shelters when ferocious winds drove the blaze into the western suburbs of Colorado Springs on Tuesday night.

Among those who scrambled for safety was Simone Covey, a 26-year-old single mother of three. Homeless, Covey had been looking after her sister's apartment near the spectacular Garden of the Gods park when she was told to leave Tuesday evening.

"The sky was red, the wind was blowing really fast, and there were embers falling from the sky," Covey said at a Red Cross shelter inside the basketball gymnasium of Cheyenne Mountain High School. "I didn't really have time to think about it. I was just trying to keep my kids calm."

Family in tow, Covey arrived at the shelter and pushed several military-style cots together to keep her children close. They ate cheeseburgers Tuesday night; Wednesday's lunch consisted of gyros served in Styrofoam containers.

Donated children's books, teddy bears and other stuffed toys were scattered across blankets that bore the Red Cross emblem. Covey's children, ages 3, 5 and 6, splashed around in kiddie pools set up outside the shelter to beat the scorching heat. Inside, a bank of fans did little to keep the gym cool.

And with nowhere to go, Covey planned on spending another night.

"It's definitely different. It's loud, but other than that, it's not that bad," Covey said.

She said she hoped to get a motel room soon — but confided that "finances are kind of tight right now."

Red Cross spokeswoman Catherine Barde said 159 people stayed at the Cheyenne Mountain High School shelter Tuesday night, and 148 people were at three other shelters.