Monday, July 23, 2012

Waldo Canyon Fire

Climbing out of a big, black hole this morning, I could finally see the light of day. As I opened my bedroom blinds and cautiously opened the window, a wonderful, clean, sweet, moist waft of air freshened my lungs and filled the room with much-needed relief. The six o’clock sun’s warmth on my face complemented the cool air emanating from our rain-drenched earth. Praise god. All but two of us made it through hell.

During record-high heat for days in a row, fires devastated a large section of our half-million-peopled city. Those on the west side of I-25 that bisects Colorado Springs found it hard to breathe for a week—not just because of the thick, particulate-filled smoke, but because of fear—fear of being forced from their homes with possibly no home to return to. This happened to 347 families. One couple was unable to escape and succumbed to fire in their destroyed home.
Throughout the week beginning Saturday, June 23, 2012, plumes of residue from burning foliage hung in the air like a thick, dry fog. Many trees had lain on their sides for years, victims of a years-long drought and beetles that preyed upon their weakened bark and flesh. Those living in their midst probably felt the darkness surrounding them, though the Colorado sun burned brightly. Lack of rain drained plants’ resistance to predatory insects and disease making them vulnerable to volatile situations. It would have taken numerous invigorating showers for our trees, shrubs, and other plants to replenish their vitality. As they stood, frail with roots shriveling in dry, crushed granite, they were star-crossed awaiting an executioner’s line.

Like water, wind, and the earth’s bowels, fire has a life of its own. It moves and breathes like a wild animal, but can grow exponentially at lightning speed. Given austere conditions and abundant fuel, all it needs is a spark or dull smolder to bring heat to life. Further encouraged by even a small breeze, fire converts all that is beautiful and ugly into ash. The wild creature, tense from being caged for years, breaks free and grows larger with each discovery. Dried pine needles crackle and spit. Its flames loop around tall cylinders of wood, dancing from limb to twig, changing colors as they interact with sap, moisture, and air. Fire transforms, licking and lapping like a wave at land, sucking life from its victims left dying in its wake. Insatiably, fire consumes the desiccated and affects the green in parched, lively gulps until it is depleted of fuel or man tames it.

Waldo Canyon, whose trail I used to hike at least monthly, held ripe components for a dramatic firestorm for years. How the most destructive fire in Colorado history got its start, we have yet to learn. What we do know, though, is how better to mitigate fire’s reach, how to build more fire-resistant homes, how to more intelligently landscape in an arid clime, and how much we care about each other.

[written Tuesday, July 10, 2012]

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