by Laura Benjamin
I’ve always worked from home since launching my business in 1997. It grew, along with the files and tons of treasured books. Then in the hot, dry summer of 2013, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history swept through our community. It burned over 18,000 acres (18,000 football fields) and consumed 487 homes, including mine.
We had less than two hours to evacuate – more than many people had. Those who worked “in town” weren’t able to get home before police and fire responders closed off the main roads. Fortunately, I had two hours to comprehend the gravity of the situation and pack our things.
I kept thinking, “Of course they’ll put it out. It won’t be long and they’ll have it under control.” But I was wrong. And by the time it finally sunk in that we needed to evacuate, I’d wasted valuable time. Like in a dream, I methodically moved around our home, urging my son to “take anything that’s important to you” and caught the cats. I packed a small suitcase, grabbed my computer, and put photo albums in the car, ready for a fast get-away. I kept saying to myself, “Stay calm. Don’t panic. Take this one step at a time.”
Thankfully, we got out safely. But the fire took our historic log cabin, garage and everything we owned. It also consumed 20 years of client files, tax records, software, training materials, office equipment and supplies. When we visited the site a week later, there was little left except ash, melted glass, twisted metal, a warped cast iron skillet, our wood-stove and crumbling fireplace. The 2500 degree inferno also took 45+ trees and decades of memorabilia including all my journals, baby books and the box of my kids’ cards and crafts.
For those of us who work from home, our business may be just as important as our personal possessions. Putting the pieces back together again is a huge undertaking. Your whole life is turned upside down for years to come. But I have a few tips I can share with my fellow entrepreneurs. Knowing what I know now, I would have:
Stored more of my files and documents digitally
Created an “emergency box” of important business and personal documents
Listed things to pack if I had 10 minutes or 1 hour to get out
Made sure family members knew what to grab if I couldn’t make it home in time
Thankfully we have rebuilt on the same site as the old cabin and we are better off in many ways. (Heck of a way to get more closet space, however.)
Laura Benjamin works from her home in Black Forest, Colorado. She speaks throughout the US on Lessons Learned from Losing Home and Business in a Wildfire. Contact her at Laura-Benjamin.com, find her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter @Laura_Benjamin
Laura Benjamin is a Veteran, Mom, business owner and wildfire survivor. Since 1997 she has spoken for groups throughout the U.S., Germany, Canada and Great Britain and worked with organizations including the U.S. Army, State of Florida, OrthoAccel Technologies, Junior Achievement, Wells Fargo and many others. She is the author of The CARLA Concept: How to Raise an Issue, Prove Your Point and Communicate with Confidence and Clarity. Laura lives near Black Forest, Colorado. She loves to write, kayak, hike and is owned by two cats.