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Former Whitefish resident recounts close call with Colorado wildfire

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Posted at 9:20 AM, Jan 03, 2022

BILLINGS — Wildfire isn't normally something you think about at the start of a new year in the winter, but that's exactly what several thousand residents in Colorado — including one Montana native — are still dealing with after a fire ripped through a Denver suburb.

Emily Murdock has seen wildfires before, having grown up in Whitefish. She moved to Colorado in 2005 and just days ago found herself and her family just miles away from a fire that burned 1,000 homes.

“I’ve experienced wildfires a lot, but having it burn through a suburban area where houses are just boom, boom, boom, right next to each other is just very scary. A couple of folks I know did lose their homes, whereas other friends, their street was fine and a few doors down, full devastation. It really is pure luck," Murdock told MTN News.

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Emily Murdock grew up in Whitefish, but moved to Colorado for grad school in 2005 and ended up staying there. She voluntarily evacuated her Westminster, Colorado home on Thursday with her husband and small daughter in fear of fire.

Murdock and her small daughter were at the Westminster Hills Dog Park the day the fire started and noticed heavy winds right when they stepped out of the car, she said.

"The second we got out of the car, I was like, 'oh, maybe this is not a good idea for me and my small daughter'. But we persevered and we went to the top of the hill and saw what I knew was a smoke plume. And it was small at that point, but growing up in Montana, I've seen my fair share of smoke plumes," Murdock said.

Emily Murdock took this photo around noon on Dec. 30, 2021 from the Westminster Hills Dog Park in Westminster, Colorado.

Murdock learned more about the fire via Twitter and around 6 p.m. she learned the mandatory evacuation area was about one mile away from her home in Westminster. To avoid a late-night wake up from authorities and having to scramble with their small child, Murdock said the family opted to voluntarily evacuate early, just in case things turned for the worse.

The family traveled about 30 minutes south to Murdock's parents newly-bought home in Golden, Colorado.

Thankfully, the Murdock's home came out untouched, unlike some of her friends in the area who lost their homes to the fire that was put out by snow around 24 hours after it started burning.

"It's a little bizarre to look out the window, see a foot of snow, and know that the day before that 1,000 houses burned down," Murdock said. "Our neighborhood was absolutely fine, but knowing in the back of my mind that people who were not able to come back home and put those paintings back on the walls and put things back in their space, it was kind of a surreal experience," Murdock said.

Officials in Colorado are still assessing damages and trying to pin down a cause for the fire. If you would like to help, Murdock pointed to as a reputable charitable organization that's done good work in the past. The nonprofit group seeks to connect worthy causes and other nonprofit organizations to generous donors. View the link to donate on the ColoradoGives website by clicking here.