As you may have heard, the Garden of the Gods now looks more like Hell.
Back of Kissing Camels, June 2009:
Kissing Camels, June 2012:
Beginning Saturday afternoon, the Waldo Canyon Fire has been burning near where I grew up, first outside Colorado Springs, and now inside the city limits. 32,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Thankfully, incredibly, as of 7:00 Mountain Time on the 27th, no one, including firefighters, has been injured.
And it’s not the biggest fire in the state right now.
That honor goes to the High Park Fire outside of Ft. Collins, which officials believe began with a lighting strike on June 6th which smoldered until it ignited June 9th. The fire, at 87,284 acres, is fast approaching becoming the largest in recent Colorado history, and has already cost more ($33.1 million) than any fire ever recorded in Colorado.
Eight more major fires are burning in Colorado this week, and even more across the southwest and the rest of the country. Google has created a good crisis map to track them. As of this morning (June 27, 2012) half of the wildfire fighting resources in the country were on active duty in Colorado.
It’s not like I’ve never seen fires before. For several weeks at summer camp when I was in sixth or seventh grade, I watched this bluff glow all night as fires burned on the other side. A few years later, at the same camp, a fire burned at one end of Glenwood canyon, preventing parents from making it to Parents’ Night on the last day of camp.
Sleeping Indian, August 2007
Photo credit: Me
One of my most vivid- and favorite- memories is kayaking down Desolation Canyon in Utah and watching a lightning strike on the river right bank. We watched a tree hundreds of feet above us go up in flames, and spent the next few nights watching as the fire spread across the landscape at the top of the canyon. The consolers told us the land was inside a reservation, where they let fires burn to clear the underbrush (one of the best ways to prevent the kind of fires we’re seeing right now.) I don’t remember being scared; the cliffs and the river felt like they protected us, even if they didn’t. I do remember how beautiful the glowing cliffs were.
The last fire season like this in Colorado was the summer of 2002; the year that a forest ranger burning love letters sparked the largest and, until this year, the most expensive fire in Colorado history, the Hayman Fire.
Hayman Fire, 2002
That summer, my father and I were traveling in the UK. It was my first time outside the country; we spent two weeks in the highlands of Scotland, more or less out of contact with the rest of the world. I had an email address, (my mother had helped me set it up a few weeks before to keep in touch with friends over the summer after sixth grade) but I hardly used it, and we only called home a few times. This was long before news was readily available online. My father’s biggest worries were breaking his camera (he did it) and letting me eat a hamburger (he did that, too, and I may have Mad Cow disease. You never know.)
Isle of Harris, May 2011
Photo credit: me
Then we arrived in London, and dad found a copy of (I think) the International Herald Tribune.
There were wildfires, the paper said, in the US state Colorado. Apparently they were big enough to make international news. Again, I don’t remember being afraid. I do remember walking a long way, searching for a working phone booth where we could use an international calling card to call home to see what was going on. It wasn’t one of those famous red phone booths. It was a black bank of them, and we had to wait to call behind someone who didn’t speak English. I had a copy of The Jacobite Trilogy, and I wasn’t very interested in dad’s conversation, or in talking to my seven-year-old sister.
This time I’m scared.
Partially because this fire is much closer to home, partially because I’m older, and partially because of the internet. I’m sitting in Washington DC, halfway across the country from my family, and the fire, which I should on some level be grateful for. On another level- and perhaps this makes me a spoiled brat- I am jealous of people who are with their families, even though they’re closer to the danger. I hate sitting alone, watching KKTV’s live stream and reading Twitter, trying not to call my parents every time I see another photo of a burning building.
I abused my power at work a little:
This map shows the geographic distribution of the #WaldoCanyonFire hash tag
We’ve been very lucky. My sister flew east this morning for a summer job, and we’re both safe and out of harm’s way. Our family’s home is outside of the evacuation zone, with an interstate and a river between us and the fire. Like most people in the area, my family is thinking about evacuation; I woke up in the middle of the night to text my mother a request to save my stuffed animal rabbit and a favorite childhood book, Parsifal Rides the Time Wave.
The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Map of the Waldo Canyon Fire
Red: Fire, Blue: Mandatory Evacuation, Yellow: Voluntary Evacuation Yellow Arrow: Parents’ House
Many of my friends and classmates are not as lucky. I went to school with Jeff Lucas and many others from that area. Sunday, my Facebook feed was a study in contrasts; the Colorado friends, posting photos of flames and maps, and the New York friends pictures of Pride.
The news right now is talking about firefighters running for their lives yesterday evening as the fire swept a mile forward into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in a matter of 5 minutes. Running for their lives. Have you ever seen a firefighter turn tail and run? They don’t do it. This fire is, they tell us over and over again, like nothing anyone has ever seen, and it’s inside the city limits of my home.
Mountain Shadows (?), June 26, 2012
I don’t know if there’s any value to talking about this. So many people are so much more impacted by it than I; people are losing their homes and risking their lives while I sit in safety. But I’ve been getting questions about it, and perhaps it helps, emotionally, just to write.
A few people asked how they can help. News agencies are sending people to www.helpcoloradonow.com. From what I’ve heard and seen, the Red Cross, United Way, Care and Share and the Humane Society are doing the most for the community. Some Colorado small business owners have also joined together to create Wild Fire Tees, which is selling beautiful t-shirts and donating 100% of the proceeds to the Red Cross and Care and Share. They let you ear tag your money to a specific region. If you feel the urge to donate, or pray, or do a rain dance, please do. We need everything we can get.
Something out of a nightmare: