Steven Williams had been thinking about his vacation to Colorado for over a year. He and his girlfriend, Brittney Brewer, had been dating for a while, and he was ready to pop the question.
In his head, the scenario would go something like, bask in the beauty of the wildflowers in the meadows around Lake Como before setting up camp for the evening, then the following day, hike to the summit of Blanca Peak, enjoy the view, get down on one knee, make an eloquent speech, and hopefully hear a “yes.”
It was going to be a happy surprise, but nature had a surprise of her own when a wildfire tore through their campsite.
A Family Vacation
Williams, 32, and Brewer, 30, live in Tennessee and this would be Brewer’s first visit to Colorado. With plans to visit every National Park in the United States, she was excited to see what the state had to offer.
“Mountains were everywhere, and the sky was massive, and it was kind of unbelievable. I just thought it was really pretty, and really huge … It was just gorgeous,” Brewer told The Epoch Times.
The couple were camping with other Williams family members in Forbes Park on property owned by Williams’s parents. They had bought the lot in the gated community to enjoy in their retirement and for family vacations, and planned to build a cabin on the land one day. In the meantime, a large shed was used to store materials.
They arrived on June 22, and Brewer and the Williamses spent the first few days exploring the nearby national forests, taking in the gorgeous scenery. On June 27, they headed out to Colorado Springs, but Williams’s parents decided to stay behind.
And Unsettling Call
They were heading back to Forbes Park after a fun day when they received a disturbing call from Williams’s parents. A wildfire had broken out in the area, and they were trying to pack up as many belongings as they could. Williams’s parents told them that if they couldn’t make it to Forbes Park, they would meet them at a local hotel
“That was the only phone call we had, so it was just a lot of speculating on what may be going on over there,” Williams told The Epoch Times.
As the group drove towards Forbes Park they began to see tall columns of smoke rising into the sky. That was when they realized it was serious. When they got there, the entrance to the park had been blocked off, and they had still only received that one phone call from Williams’s parents.
“That was a little nerve-racking, because there’s only one way into that park,” Williams explained. “We pulled off the road, and those flames were 300 feet high.”
They went to the hotel, but Williams’s parents weren’t there. So they went to a Red Cross shelter in Fort Garland. His parents weren’t their either. They tried to call, but there was no cellphone service.
“Then it was like, just hoping they made it out. You know, kind of worried,” Williams recalled.
A Moment of Relief
Less than an hour later, Williams’s parents arrived. They were covered in dirt, but had managed to escape with their RV. Williams, Brewer, and the family were all safe.
“It was scary until we saw them pull in, and honestly when I saw both of them in the car I was not worried about anything that was left back there. It was just good to have everyone accounted for,” Brewer recalled.
Amid the chaos, disappointment loomed for Williams. He certainly was thankful that he and his loved ones were unharmed, but he was worried about whether or not the property would survive the wildfire.
At the camp site was all their hiking gear. Without it, there’d be no summiting Blanca Peak—the fourth highest in the Rocky Mountains—and no proposal.
At the Red Cross shelter, they listened to neighbors being informed that their homes had been destroyed.
Then, a firefighter showed them a picture of their property. At first it looked like all the tents were intact and everything was ok. But, looking closer, they realized the shed was missing. The wildfire had burned the shed to the ground.
“When we realized that that shed was gone, that kind of stung a little bit. There was a lot of stuff in that shed because we were going to build a cabin,” Williams said. “There were some irreplaceable items in there, like my great grandfather’s gun, and just a few other little sentimental items.”
But he realized that there were others in the community facing much bigger problems, and any thoughts of proposing marriage would have to be sidelined for now.
Williams and Brewer had a home to go back to in Tennessee. That was not the case for many others in the shelter. The couple graciously offered to help others in any way they could. They ran errands for needed items such as toiletries and clothing.
“We just tried to help out wherever we could, because we knew that we got to come home from that vacation. We had another home to go to, and we realized that it was probably a good opportunity for us to help them out,” Brewer said.
An unexpected positive emerged from the tragedy. Forbes Park is relatively remote, and neighbors don’t often interact with each other. Now they were all in the same place, and had begun to get to know each other.
“We hung out with tons of people who at this point they didn’t know if they had a home or not to go back to, but everyone was so positive and hopeful, and they were just really bonded together. We played games, we just sat and talked and listened to people’s stories,” Brewer recalled.
Williams and Brewer became friends with a couple who had been married for 63 years, who were happy to give the young couple some life advice. The husband was a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, which was special for Williams because he had served in the U.S. Army himself.
“I really enjoyed talking to him, and listening to all those old war stories. He really made our time pass by pretty quickly, and I enjoyed that a lot,” Williams said.
A Grand Proposal
Williams had been hesitant to propose at this point because of all the bad news people had been receiving about the wildfire. He waited until July 4 when most of the bad news had passed, and then made his move.
He and his family drove to Great Sand Dunes National Park on a gorgeous day. He and Brewer walked up to the top of a sand dune, and he got down on one knee. He had planned a grandiose speech, but his mind went blank. So he just went for it.
He asked, and she said yes.
It wasn’t what he had planned, but it was beautiful nonetheless. And it was in front of his whole family too.
The shelter manager announced their engagement at the Red Cross shelter during a family cookout, and was met with cheers.
“We were on cloud nine the whole day,” Brewer said. “We didn’t want to make a huge deal about it because it was still a serious time. But when Bill announced [it] I think everyone needed that news. We got a lot of hugs.”
Looking to the Future
On July 7, the couple and the family visited their property. Tragically, much of it had been destroyed.
However, as the couple combed through the remains of the shed and tents they dreamed about what their life together would be like. Determined to rebuild, the couple plans on returning to Forbes Park next year.
“We just realized that it’s just stuff, and that there’s a little bit of hope, because all the dead trees, and grass, and that ash, you know there’s going to be that new life, new fresh life, and you know there’s going to be green grass in a year,” Williams said.
They will be married September 1, 2018, in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.