A wildfire prowls just three miles from our home, hungry and searching. For the past five days the smell of smoke has been as constant as the fear in the collective belly of Colorado Springs. Channel 11 has been on the fire 24/7 since it began, providing much needed news and information, and telling me some things I never wanted to hear.
This morning we were listening on the car radio to the morning press conference from the base of operations just over the hill from our home. The worst news was spoken first and tears welled in my already burning eyes. The number of homes lost to Tuesday night’s blitzkrieg from a wind maddened blaze was in the hundreds. We have been shown some aerial views of evacuated neighborhoods with some houses standing, some nothing more than a mound of ashes, but we had no idea the loss was so great.
At a distance, deep in the mountains, threatening some other community, I worry over fires but can stay detached, can live my life, can do my work. Now it is at my doorstep, I taste the acrid air, see the grey ash of former trees in my yard, and I have seen the flames leap and taunt. Like some voracious wolf pack stalking unsuspecting sheep, the fire suddenly raced to the outer limits of homes and culled what it needed, what it longed for before being driven back into the hills by firefighters.
All day since hearing the damage estimate, I can’t help the images that creep about in my head. I see a home alone in the dark, not only without power, but powerless against a monstrous predator. So much is the beast’s advantage that it needs no stealth to takes its victim. Brutally gaining entry by primal raw power. In moves about the house, consuming all in its path melting what it can’t burn, feeding its endless hunger on belongings and memories.
I can’t keep these thoughts from my head. Even though we ourselves have not been touched, friends of ours have been evacuated, some may even have had their homes destroyed. We feel the violation of our town by wanton fire. Most of us can only weep out of fear and out of our own impotence at being unable to do anything.
Helpless I watch as the Air Force strafes the frontiers of the flames with slurry to impede its spread. Helpless I pace as in the dark of night, brave firemen in command of their fear make a stand along Highway 24, in our neighborhoods, in the wilds of the national forest. They only give ground grudgingly, and attack when able. Helpless I listen to the litany spewing from talking heads, fire officials, and politicians of the preparations, plans, victories, and defeats.
A close friend, Susan, and her dog Smokey were forced to evacuate and she came to stay with us. After two nights with us, she has moved to her sister’s place up in south Denver for the long wait until she can return to her home which is still standing for now. Another friend, a different Susan, opened her home to mutual friends who live among the foothills close to the mountains. To our knowledge they are still with Susan, and to their best guess they have lost their house.
We can be thankful to God that no lives have yet been lost. We can see silver linings in how the community has come forward in active support of the firefighters and the displaced. We talk to our children, friends, and family daily about what is happening, giving and receiving love in the contact, but until the fire is contained, until the only smoke left are the snaking tendrils of its dying breath rising from the scorched earth, we are still threatened and are still afraid. When this fire is gone, the ground will not be the only thing scarred, and as with many insults the wounds will take much longer to heal than the time they took to inflict.