The normal thing to do, a year after a fire that was probably the worst disaster in Colorado history (it was certainly the worst fire), would be to mark the anniversary. That ought to have happened on June 26th.
I would love to have marked the anniversary of Colorado’s worst disaster on that Wednesday. The problem is, the anniversary hasn’t arrived yet, because the Waldo Canyon Fire is no longer the worst disaster in Colorado history.
It’s not even the worst disaster in the history of this part of Colorado.
Tuesday, 11 June, about 2 PM, not even a year after Waldo Canyon, a fire started in the Black Forest. This is a large wooded area (pine trees) north of Colorado Springs, and east of the Air Force Academy. It is also an area that a lot of people, seeking a rural lifestyle without being on the high plains as I am, have moved to and built their homes. I know my family had friends there as far back as 1970.
Although we had a moderately rainy spring (enough to green up the prairie grass nicely) the pine trees of Black Forest have been under-watered for over a decade now. Between that and a substantial westerly wind, a fire that started in the southwest corner of Black Forest moved several miles and threatened almost the entire Black Forest area. Almost instantly evacuation orders went out.
This one was a lot closer to home. A lot closer. If that fire had moved the second day like it did the first, I would have been in it. I took the precaution of moving some of my harder-to-pack and harder-to-move valuables to my work office in Colorado Springs on Wednesday morning. Some of my coworkers’ houses were directly threatened (it later turned out that the fire got onto their land), and of course those people were evacuated. Many others I work with were pre-evacuated. The evacuation and pre-evacuation zones never quite reached me though.
Fortunately for me, the fire never made the transition to grass fire, and the two-mile-wide thick swath of grassland east of Black Forest (centered along Elbert Road) saved my part of the county.
The fire jumped all over the place the next few days as the winds blew one direction then another, doubling back on itself as if determined to carbonize patches of forest (and houses) it hadn’t got before.
But it finally was put out with the aid of some rain later in the week.
The toll stands at two deaths (a couple that was in the process of trying to pack up to evacuate), and 509 homes destroyed. That last utterly eclipses the 347 homes destroyed last year.
What is causing this? It’s a combination of over ten years of drought–that is starting to look like permanent climate change. (OK, that should read climate change that will endure for over a lifetime.) And human factors. Both this fire and Waldo Canyon were caused by humans;
Waldo Canyon has been attributed to arson. [See update below.] They are still investigating this one to determine if it was in fact deliberately set.
That would be inconceivably sick. Surely after last year people can understand the horrific risk setting a fire is. Maybe, just maybe, Waldo was set by some clown who thought it’d be fun to yank the firefighters’ chains and didn’t expect it to turn into a Beast. There were no less than 20 arson attempts further west than Waldo just before Waldo (though no connection has been established). But that can’t have happened this year.
Conspiracy theories abound, including terrorism. I just know that the Waldo Canyon arsonist, if caught, is due for murder charges for the two people who died in that fire. And the (hypothetical) Black Forest arsonist would be too. Jail time and/or a lethal injection would be much too good for these people, though.
One theory I will dismiss out of hand is that god somehow had something to do with saving peoples’ homes; for he surely did nothing for the 509 people whose houses did get turned into smoking ruins. Thank god for saving your house? How about asking him why he allowed the others to burn? If you really insist on bringing an imaginary “friend” into it.
The real, non-imaginary heroes here, as last year, are the first responders, who actively did save many houses directly, and who knows how many indirectly by fighting the fire in general and containing it and putting out sooner than it would have done so on its own. Bravo to you all!
Meanwhile, more fires burn in other parts of the state, with West Fork still on a rampage, and a new fire in Jefferson County… and in a case of deja vu all over again, it’s threatening homes.
UPDATE 8 July 2013: It is in fact still unknown whether the Waldo Canyon fire last year was deliberately set.