A Writer’s Thoughts on the Waldo Canyon Fire
by Robert Spiller
For those of you who have wondered how it was in Colorado Springs during the Waldo Canyon Fire, here are the facts: A fire storm raged out of Waldo Canyon, was fed by mindless winds, spread at an insane speed across my beautiful Rocky Mountains, was fought by men and women of valor, displaced over thirty thousand people, consumed over eighteen thousand acres, and devoured over three hundred homes.
Again these are the facts. But the stories are so much more.
This morning I went with some friends from Pikes Peak Writers, a local writer’s organization, to deliver about three vans worth of stuff (food, furniture, computer equipment, and just general necessities) to a friend who lost her home to the fire. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around waking up one morning and realizing your home is gone…forever. The recipient was a fellow writer who has never failed to impress me, not just with her skill as a writer, but as person of integrity and strength. I had seen her a few days earlier to deliver a care package (some wine, cheese, crackers, and strawberries). She was in shock at that time. She had lost her beloved home, and although a dear, dear friend had taken her in, she would never be returning to the ten million things that were lost. This morning, she looked exhausted, but had gained some composure. Understandably, she was sad, but she spoke of recovery and how her children were taking the adjustment (this is what we call other people’s reaction to tragedy). I can only wonder if I would have been as strong had my home been devoured by an inferno.
The president of Pikes Peak Writers is a soft spoken, gracious woman. She works tirelessly for the organization that puts on the Pikes Peak Writers Conference—in my estimation one of the best writer’s conferences in the world (I might be biased). Between June 23 and June 25 some 32,000 folks were displaced from their homes. Entire sections of Colorado Springs were depopulated. Many of these people ended up in school gymnasiums, shelters, and other giant structures where legions of cots were brought in to house the homeless. This woman, my friend, opened her heart and her home not just to a family in need but to three families. These displaced individuals became part of her family for the better part of a week. What was even more amazing is that she did all of this with gratitude in her heart. She felt it was not only her civic duty but her privilege to make her home available to those in need. This scene was replicated again and again across Colorado Springs by folks who saw a need and answered a call. It’s at times like these that I am most proud of my species.
THE DEATHS – THE MORNING OF JUNE 26
This morning I read that a person (not a body, this is no cozy mystery to be read then forgotten) was found dead in a fire-ravaged home in the north end of Colorado Springs. I didn’t know this person in any way, shape, or form. He or she was just fellow Coloradoan who shared my home town and died in a horrific natural disaster. My heart broke and I wept.
Over 2000 firefighters were brought in from all over the country to fight a fire that for a number of days was almost alive with a voracious appetite. Sixty-five mile an hour winds fed the blaze. With a super-human effort, these brave men and women worked around the clock, many refusing to leave the front lines until their supervisors forced them to do so. Even though many homes were lost, thousands were saved by their valor. As the days passed, it became apparent that these firefighters, many of whom were from outside of Colorado, were true super-heroes worthy of our admiration and so much more. A makeshift village of hundreds of tents was erected in a large field along I-25 in northern Colorado Springs. Several times a day, as the firefighters changed shifts, a fleet of school-buses would carry firefighters to the ravenous blaze and then bring to the village weary soot-covered firefighters. The buses took the same route every day, and before long an army of well-wishers lined the route with signs bearing messages of love and gratitude. One day, after a particularly exhausting shift of placing their bodies in the path of destruction, the firefighters in their buses were winding their way back to the camp. The shouts went up. The signs were waved. Tears of gratitude were shed. Then a grimy hand extended out an open bus window and a thumbs up was flashed, then another and another. Then the buses were gone, but not the feeling that something magic had just transpired.
Waldo Canyon contains a seven mile hike through some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet. I have hiked it more times than I can count, most notably on the day before my wedding. The hike wanders along breathtaking views, clear mountain streams, and stands of aspen and columbines. There have been times when I’ve passed folks coming out of the canyon as I was going in. The smiles on their faces told a tale of a communion of with nature that words would fail to convey…smiles would have to do. Most of the canyon has now been laid low by the ravages of a mindless fire and the hike itself is closed for the indefinite future. But I believe that the Earth abides. The land will heal itself. One day the canyon will be open again to the smilers. Hopefully, this time we’ll be more careful.
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Robert Spiller is the author of the Bonnie Pinkwater mystery series: The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers, Radical Equations. His math teacher/sleuth uses Mathematics and her knowledge of historic mathematicians to solve murders in the small Colorado town of East Plains. Robert is working on the fifth Bonnie book, Napier’s Bones. Robert lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wonderful wife Barbara. His three children and four grandchildren all live within shouting distance. After thirty five years in the classroom, Robert retired from teaching mathematics this year to write full time.