LOUISVILLE, Colo. (KDVR) — It’s been nearly one month since the Marshall Fire ripped through Boulder County, gutting homes and leaving many renters, homeowners and landlords with nothing. Families are still reeling from the impact, including a single mother of three, forced to live in a hotel with her children.
Her story is just one of many heartbreaking stories coming out of the devastation. Julianne McKay and her children, one with special needs, must throw out all their belongings and restart, calling the Drury Inn & Suites home for now.
“Say hi. Ezekiel. Hey, buddy, come here and sit with me,” McKay said playfully while sitting on a hotel couch.
That’s the new norm for McKay and her family. The mother is trying to balance it all. She’s a part-time student and works full-time, all while homeschooling and raising 11-year-old Troy and 9-year-old twins, Ginger and Ezekiel.
While juggling all her responsibilities, the Marshall Fire suddenly sparked.
“It was just windy and smoky. I could barely breathe,” McKay said. “We grabbed a few bags and threw them in the car. Her nose (daughter) was bleeding so much because it was extremely dry and we got in the car and just took off.”
The McKay family was forced out of their townhome in Louisville and into a cramped hotel room with no kitchen, no privacy, no room for the kids to play and nowhere to call home.
“It’s been hard for me to do everything,” McKay cried. “But I just keep going.”
The single mother continues to go through the motions each day, but not without tears and mounting stress. Although her rental home is still standing, it is covered in ash, soot, and debris.
McKay’s son, Ezekiel, is autistic and has severe health issues, including one kidney. He’s immunocompromised as well, which is why McKay started homeschooling her children during the COVID pandemic. Because of this, retrieving their personal belongings or returning home is not an option right now.
“It’s carcinogenic and toxic,” McKay explained. “I can’t have him around it and put him at risk. He has breathing difficulties. He aspirates liquid, so his lungs are inflamed. Bringing him around all of this smoke it’s difficult.”
Mckay said that her son has been out of his routine for nearly one month and he’s been struggling because of it. She said children with autism like structure and routine. McKay also shared that she can’t take her kids to the home due to the ash and has been spending hundreds a week in daycare to try and deal with insurance and more, not to mention driving from the hotel in Westminster to Louisville frequently. She added that she’s staying strong for her kids but has reached a breaking point and feels alone and overwhelmed.
“I don’t have the fight in me to argue with the insurance people,” McKay cried. “I just have so many things that are on my plate. I was having a hard time before this happened and to add this on top of this — I just have no fight in me left to fight with these people. I’m exhausted.”
The family has a GoFundMe set up to help with the mounting expenses.
Through the exhaustion, McKay takes comfort in having her kids by her side and keeps going each day. McKay’s 11-year-old son, Troy, said that he helps his mother and each day they recite a quote he learned in school from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by any means just keep going,” Troy recited.
McKay said she and her children will be living at the hotel for the foreseeable future until their home can be cleaned. She added that she is still paying rent on her home and waiting for the H.O.A to authorize cleaning their home but has been given no exact timeline.
Even then, she’s unsure if they’ll return due to her son’s health. McKay said it all depends on the home’s air quality if they return.