The last few weeks, here in Northern Colorado, have given me a new compassion for both the residents and firefighters of California. When they have immense fires like the ones that have been raging both in that state and here in Colorado, Californians sustain major losses — whole neighborhoods are wiped out when fire season returns each year in California. It’s hard to fathom how they live with such continual risk.
While I was still so relieved that the Lewstone Fire at Rist Canyon was quickly contained, this week the Cameron Peak Fire, originally so far away, threatened the small property I own. As of this writing, the fire is now only two ridges away, having consumed over 100,000 acres of mostly national forest. As the fire gets closer to significant amounts of private land, once again, my small writer’s studio and thirty acres of burned land are exposed to the threat of burning — for the second time in two weeks.
This past Monday, I evacuated under a sky that was so smoke-filled that the sun, when it was visible at all, looked a surreal red through the smoke. Someone described the sky last Monday as “apocalyptic” and while in most situations, I would consider a statement like that hyperbole, this time I had to agree.
I’ve never been so glad to see snow and rain.
Despite the change in weather and the best efforts of fire control authorities and the brave people who work so hard on our behalf, this fire is a real threat to everyone who lives in the Northern Colorado mountains in pretty much all areas east of the continental divide.
As I sit here in line to get my “evacuation credentials” at Cache La Poudre Middle School in Laporte, I remind myself that it’s likely the people here have much more to lose than I do. Their homes and their livelihood are at stake. They look tired and stressed and some seem visibly upset.
Many of those who have recently evacuated have already experienced tremendous loss. Only 8 years ago, they lost everything in the High Park Fire. One of my 68-year old neighbors told me that he felt like he was just settling in after completely rebuilding his home. He’s not sure he has another eight more years to rebuild again so he is just hoping it all works out.
At my age, I consider myself lucky — I expect I have time. If it burns, I will rebuild, perhaps bigger and better.
After two days of snow, the mountains are still snow-covered and the air in Fort Collins has cleared considerably. But the harsh reality that Poudre and Rist Canyons could burn is still very real.
We are all waiting for the weather to warm up, the snow to melt and the report from the firefighters about how likely it is that this fire is going to continue to spread.
The harsh reality is that hundreds of people are preparing by getting credentials so that if the fire moves through, taking almost everything in its path, they will have access to their property. Some have already lost more than a hundred years of family history. See our contributor Annie Lindgren’s special story as she interviewed one of them.
I feel great sadness for these people. Having spoken to several people in the fire’s possible path, some have shared that their choice to live on the mountains comes with risks. Just as people who choose to live on the coast risk the loss of their homes through hurricanes, those who live in the mountains take a different risk of mother nature’s fury.
Some will make a new decision, moving what they have left to a different place. But many, like me, will move forward and rebuild.
In a day or two, I will go assess the condition of my property. And I will continue to prepare the property to host fire officials and anyone else who needs access, should the fire’s eastern flank rip through the canyon. Once again, I may have to say goodbye to a small structure that I built this summer with my boys. But I will long remember the memories we built that no act of nature can ever destroy. And who knows, I may get lucky and find that my small structure is still intact.
And as always, for those who risk their lives to keep us and our property safe — you are the true heroes!
Thank you and God Bless you!
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