HONOLULU (KHON2) — A wildfire that burned through Denver and Boulder on Dec. 30, 2021 destroyed nearly 1,100 buildings, forcing some 35,000 people from their homes. It’s considered to be the most destructive wildfire in Colorado state history.
Former Wahine volleyball player Heidi Ilustre-Boatright and her husband Steve were at Costco across their neighborhood when they could smell the smoke.
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“We went to go pay and when we were walking towards the exit we could see out the door that it was so smoky,” Heidi recounted. “My sister-in-law and her family were visiting for the holidays and was at our house with our kids. I called her, and she said, ‘Yeah, there’s a fire. I’m getting the pets and the kids ready.'”
After that phone call, Heidi and Steve rushed home, about a minute away, but smoke could already be seen in the field behind their home.
“We went into house trying to remain calm, started to try to get our cat in the the kennel,” she said, “and then black smoke just engulfed our neighborhood.”
Heidi said the wind was blowing so hard that when they opened their storm door, it flew off. They hurried outside and jumped into Steve’s truck, as they saw their neighbors also rushing to get into their own cars. Heidi had to leave hers behind, along with the rest of her belongings. Their pets, including one dog, one cat and two hamsters, were able to get out.
“Everything was destroyed,” Heidi said, “decimated is what I should say.”
Heidi’s neighbor shared this video returning to their neighborhood to find nothing left.
Heidi and her family have been staying in a hotel since the fire and are unsure of what the next steps are.
“We are waiting around for the snow to melt so we can go back and sift through the rubble,” she said. “After that, I know we need to remove ourselves from all of this, especially for the kids. Go away and clear our heads and figure out our life.”
Heidi and Steve have three kids — Jan. 1, 2022 was their youngest daughter’s sixth birthday. The days before the fire, her family was working on a birthday cake. Her daughter specifically wanted a unicorn cake. During the chaos, Heidi’s sister-in-law was able to find someone who could make it within 24 hours at no charge.
“Strangers found out that it was her birthday and were giving her wrapped birthday gifts,” Heidi said.
It’s just one of the many acts of kindness family, friends and strangers have shown Heidi and her family. Donations, she said, are coming in from everywhere: friends from high school, parents of friends, grandparents of friends of friends, and strangers who want to help.
“The beach volleyball club that I coach at had bins in our facility full of clothes and gift cards,” she said. “The volleyball community in general here, reached out and sent donations, one even bought a laptop!”
Heidi — whose children are homeschooled — adds that the homeschool community in her area is setting up a virtual shopping site for all homeschool fire victims. In the meantime, school supplies and activity books are being delivered.
“It’s been just amazing and humbling,” Heidi said. “It’s definitely easier to give than to receive though. The first three mornings were just so much tears because of the texts and donations I woke up to.”
Heidi says the Hawaii community and volleyball community have also reached out, sending care packages and donations. Heidi, who played for the University of Hawaii between 1996 and 1999, hasn’t been back to islands since 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Hawaii has definitely been on our mind as a place to get away for a bit,” she said. “We all just want to be engulfed in the warm sun, warm sand, warm water and the comfort Hawaii. We’ll see.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Heidi and her family. Click here to make a donation or Venmo Heidi directly @Heidi-Ilustre-Boatright. Heidi would also like to share this community GoFundMe page listing other pages in the Sagamore neighborhood.
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Heidi will share an address for people to send physical donations to once they find a place to get settled. In the meantime, please refer to GoFundMe and Venmo for sending donations.