Sitting in front of her TV set and computer more than 850 miles away, Lauren Hug spent endless hours, day after day, watching the Waldo Canyon Fire with emotions and perspective that others couldn't comprehend.
The 35-year-old attorney and mother of two young kids (7 and 4) might have been in Austin, Texas, but her heart already was in Colorado Springs.
Already, because Lauren and her husband, Andrew Hug, have been packing all their belongings to move their family here. Not just to our city, either. To a home on Wilson Road, in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. Maybe.
"It's been so hard, watching it all," Lauren says by phone, her voice choking at times. "We wanted to be there, not just to see the fire, but to help in the disaster recovery, volunteering at shelters, whatever we could do. It's just so heartbreaking that this could happen to such a cool city and a beautiful place, with such a lasting impact."
Here's their story: Lauren has lived in Austin since age 12. Andrew grew up in Dallas. Both went to law school, settled in Austin, and have done well. But every summer they loved vacationing in Colorado, until a realization struck them two years ago.
"We were heading back once again to 107-degree weather in Texas, and we just said, 'Why are we going back, if we love it here so much?' So we started the process of getting licensed to practice law in Colorado."
They looked at Denver and Fort Collins, but this city grabbed them.
"Colorado Springs fits everything we wanted," Lauren says. "We like the way it's laid out, and it has the best things of a bigger city as well as a smaller town. Actually it reminds us of Austin in 1990, when it was smaller with fewer problems. And Denver isn't far away."
Last October, in Denver for a seminar as part of joining the Colorado Bar Association, the Hugs spent a day checking out the Springs. They wound up at an open house in Mountain Shadows, and as Lauren recalls, "We stood in the kitchen and said, 'We love this house.'" But they weren't ready to leave Texas just yet.
By spring, the price had come down, so they made an offer, and on May 26 it was accepted. They would have their dream house beside the mountains, moving in July. Then, just before the appraisal on the house, the fire ignited. Three days later, it attacked Mountain Shadows.
"The lines of where the fire went seemed to go through our driveway," Lauren says, "so we didn't know."
Soon came good and bad news. The house on Wilson Road survived, but others nearby didn't, and that left the appraisal and property value in serious doubt for lending purposes. So the deal might not go through.
But the Hugs couldn't wait. They wanted to be here. So last weekend they rented a truck, filled it with their stuff as planned all along and began saying goodbyes. They'll arrive in Colorado Springs any day now, staying in a temporary apartment until ...
As Lauren tweeted last week, "I just want my Miracle House."
But on the phone a few days later, she acknowledges the new reality facing them. "Now that the emotion is wearing off, if the property values drop too much, we might have to look for another house. It's breaking my heart to even say that."
So the Hugs are coming and hoping for the best. They even agreed to a 30-day extension on their scheduled closing date, though friends have advised them to walk away and check out other houses.
"We know a lot of people have to rebuild, but we want to be part of those people," Lauren says. "I keep thinking it's not the same as other places. I see the spirit of the people. We just want it all to work out. If they can have people back in their homes this fast after such a major disaster, it's so encouraging to hear that."
Nothing would be a better headline for Colorado Springs' recovery than for Lauren and Andrew Hug, along with their kids, to find a happy ending here. It's obvious that Lauren — a successful public-speaking coach (hugspeak.com) as well as defense attorney — plans to become an active presence in this city, which can use all the 30-something professionals it can get.
"I've thought about this a lot," Lauren says. "What a way to come into a new community. We can help rebuild it."