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Of all the strange moments created by the Waldo Canyon fire, one stands out and probably always will.

About 2 a.m. Sunday, our family heard the mandatory evacuation order for Manitou Springs. By 3:30, my wife, adult son, cat and I were packed into two cars, heading for a motel room (the only one I could find) on South Nevada Avenue.

Just four hours later, I brought Mitch back to his job at the west-side Safeway, then decided to return home for a few things we'd forgotten, since the Manitou roadblocks weren't manned yet.

I got there, went inside ... and everything felt so surreal. Like it wasn't our house anymore. I looked out at the fire, with angry flames clearly visible just above Cedar Heights, and wondered if the unthinkable actually could happen. Common sense and logic said surely not, but when you're told to evacuate, you're not in control anymore.

Little did we realize how the hours and days would unfold: First, the evacuation lifted for us, then living out of suitcases in our own house, knowing others had it far worse. But that eerie return to our home still makes me shudder.

The fire has persisted, and our initial impromptu response produced a package of stories with a Twitter-inspired timeline starting here. We want to provide a clearer memory for readers beyond the monotonous TV coverage.

As Indy reporter J. Adrian Stanley (another Manitou evacuee) put it, this time some of us went from covering the news to being in the news.

It's something we never want to experience again.

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