This is my hometown, Colorado Springs. I show you these views of Pikes Peak and of Garden of the Gods, because these are the places I have grown up looking for most of my life. These mountains, these gorgeous, forest-laden mountains, hold places I have often visited, trails I have often hiked, and friends' houses I have often visited.
And if you've been paying any attention to the news in the last few days, those mountains are on fire.
(In actuality, Colorado is on fire... on Sunday there were 8 forest fires buring across the state, including this one, the Waldo Canyon Fire, and the High Park Fire near Fort Collins, which has burned more than 80,000 acres.)
Saturday afternoon I came home from Husband's softball games, noticing a plume of smoke in the mountains. By that evening, we knew a pretty big forest fire had broken out. It seemed like it was mostly going to threaten areas up the mountain, which was upsetting, but life went on. We watched the news over the next couple of days, tracking it's progress, noting areas that had been evacuated, but still the experience felt a little far off, even as we watched the plumes of smoke. Sure, we had to keep our windows closed to keep the smoke out, which meant that, for those of us without AC, inside temps reached as high as 88 degrees, cool, compared to the 100 degrees outside. (Record highs for Colorado, by the way.)
My family particularly paid attention as they live in a forest on the northeast side of town, knowing that, with the intense dryness and the intense heat, a small spark could light up their world, too. With all the fires going on around the state, the smoke making our normal views hazy and frightening, and the heat, everything felt a little surreal, and as if anything could happen.
That feeling increased dramatically on Tuesday.
That morning, I headed out for coffee with my mom, followed by a little shopping trip and then a salad from Whole Foods. From our location, we could see the smoke moving up the ridge of the mountains, towards the north, towards homes, towards the Air Force Academy. By that afternoon, many reported literally seeing the flames racing down the hills towards the city. The smoke descended on us, and ash fell all over the city, including at our home, several miles away.
Watching the news made me want to cry. Correction, I did cry. The images were startling, nightmarish, vivid. Homes were burning, and places we love, like the Flying W. Ranch, where I went many times with my grandparents and family over the years, including the day Husband and I got engaged, burned to the ground.
What had felt surreal, yet far away, was suddenly very close. The idea of sleep was almost unimaginable. I finally made myself turn off the TV and told Husband not to let me turn it back on again. As a child, I was severely afraid of fire, but over the last many years, that fear had faded, and I had almost forgotten. Now, suddenly, I remembered. I am terrified of fire.
Wednesday morning dawned with a press conference explaining the damage. The fire had gone from about 6,000 acres to 15,000 in the span of several hours. An unknown number (now estimated to be in the hundreds) of homes had been lost. The wind and other weather factors, unable to be controlled by human hand, had caused the fire to become an inferno. Devastation had ensued. The Air Force Academy had been evacuated as the fire threatened to continue on it's way.
Yesterday I spent the day at my parents', helping them mitigate a little, just in case, although if a forest fire really were to break out where they live, I don't think anything could really help. We waited all day to see if the fire would continue raging, or if it would be a good day. Small rainstorms scattered the area, bringing hope and fear simultaneously. A little rain would do nothing, but the lightening accompanying it could do serious damage. Areas to the north were put on pre-evacuation, including the town where my good friend lives. As she is on vacation in Mexico, I wondered if I should break into her house and get some things for her.
We learned this morning that the fire increased to 18,000 acres, which, actually, was good news. No more structures were lost, and they have high hopes for today, expecting the weather to work in their favor. I pray it does, as everyone knows that in Colorado, the weather never does what it is supposed to do. There are over 1,000 firefighters fighting this fire, even as others work tirelessly around the state to put out the other fires, too. Some stupid people have been criticizing them, implying that they didn't work hard enough, that they lost hope, that they let places burn. As if anyone could control the raging beast that is a forest fire, or control the wind that blows wildly through the mountains. I sort of would like to hit those stupid people, you know. Thankfully, the firefighters continue to work endlessly, and are committed to their task. They've been preparing for this day, for this season, their entire careers. More thankfully, not one injury or loss of life has been reported, not for a firefighter or for any of the 32,000 evacuees.
Facebook blew up with photos of the fire and prayers for a miracle. I confess that very little have I prayed. I know God is big enough, powerful enough, to send a miracle, to send a torrential rain despite the weather forecast. I know that He works things for His Good (Big "G" Good, as my friend says, not our little "g" good), and that He can work and is working through this experience. I know these things.
But that hasn't stopped me from wondering what the purpose is, really. Even as I type, I wonder. Part of it is that is as if our city is in a bad movie, so it almost feels as if it might not be real. Our eyes are glued to the mountains, to the progression of the smoke. Our TVs have been constantly on, as we listen with half an ear. Yet we've also had to go to work, to make dinner, to continue life. Will still needs to eat, be played with, have his diaper changed. There's this odd feeling of "what are we doing?" covering everything. My mom said it best yesterday. Even as we were outside raking pine needles to mitigate their property, a man was washing their windows before company comes next week. "It feels incongruent that we are simultaneously getting the house ready for company as we are getting it ready to burn down." The whole experience is weird.
I could go on for a long while trying to explain what this feeling has been like, but I think I'll stop now. Afterall, life does have to go on. While we wait to see what today will hold for the fire, for our mountains, our city, our friends, there is still work to do and things to be done. The city has really pulled together, and will continue to do so, I know. These things unite us.
And, while I haven't been on my knees praying as perhaps I should have been, I will cling to the truths that God is God of this City, that He is greater and more powerful than any fire, and that, although I really don't think He wills a fire to destroy things, He can still make Good things come from tragedy.
I have a post ready for Will's 3 Month update, by the way, but I decided to save it and share this, for now.