Each One Thank One (or a dozen)

I’ve written a post over at Fierce, Freethinking Fatties this week that touched on my struggles about the fire inhalation I’m dealing with from the Waldo Canyon Fire that was here in Colorado Springs.

The fire started on June 23, about noon.  At least, that’s when many people in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas saw the plume of smoke.  I happened to be out, buying supplies to make the caramel I was supposed to deliver the following Friday to a local store I’m in.  I’d stopped at a McDonald’s, and in the time it took me to order, obtain my food and drink, and sit down, the sky to the west went from perfectly clear to a plume of smoke that appeared to be about a yard wide.  Considering the distance the fire was, I knew that was a big fire already.

As the afternoon went on, the plume grew so big, people at the grocery store were stopping and looking.

Yes, I called the fire department.  Along with many, many people.  I was told they knew about it and were working on it.  Even so, it was concerning that the plume of smoke kept growing.

When I arrived home, I turned on the tv, and found the area my mother-in-law lived in was under voluntary evacuations.  So I called her to get her to leave.  It took her a while to believe there was a danger.  She didn’t finally start to be serious about it until just before the authorities changed the voluntary evacuation to a mandatory one.  She left the house about a half hour after the mandatory evacuation was called.

That was the last time she ever saw her house standing.  (This picture shows my mother-in-law’s neighborhood as it is now.  This is a small portion of the affected area.)

Tuesday, June 26, the perfect conditions happened for a firestorm.  At that point, 32,000 + people were put on mandatory evacuation, with many more on “pre-evac” status.  Whole towns (Manitou Springs, Cascade, Green Mountain Falls) were evacuated, with other towns (Woodland Park) partially evacuated.  For a while on Tuesday, I-25 (a major north-south highway through the west) was closed through Colorado Springs southbound.  SH 24, the only direct route up the mountain to the towns listed above, was closed for over a week.

That Tuesday, the growth of the fire was exponential.  It went from about 6,000 acres to preliminary reports of 24,000 acres (which was later downsized, the reality was more like 15,000 acres).  The mountains were literally on fire.

At this point, the statistics are:  18,247 acres of land were consumed in the fire, 347 houses totally destroyed and an untold number will need to be bulldozed and built back up from the ground due to heat damage, 2 lives lost.  We had 8 C130s that had been fitted for dropping water, slurry, or retardant on the fire, and at least 10 helicopters also dropping water or slurry.  The cost to the city for JUST the firefighting efforts is currently at $14.5 million.  This is not accounting for the loss of property yet.

And, we had 1500 firefighters (as well as additional personnel from the military) from all over the country here, helping local fire fighters fight this blaze and keep it from doing any more damage.

Colorado Springs and neighboring communities have been amazing in this.  Over 1 ton of food and supplies have been collected and dropped off for evacuees and firefighters.  While there were many Red Cross Evacuee stations open, none of them were filled due to the generosity of friends of evacuees (or friends of friends of friends).  Water, gatorade, snacks that are easy to eat (like granola bars) were dropped off for the fire fighters use to such an extent, people were being told, “We have enough for now, we’ll have the media announce when we need more, because their is no room to store this stuff!”

Waldo fire Incident Commander Rich Harvey said that in his 30+ years of firefighting, he’d never seen such an outpouring of support and appreciation by the citizens toward the firefighters.

We’ve done well, here, showing our appreciation.  It was bad, yes.  So many homes destroyed.  So much acreage of national forest gone.  Two lives lost.  But whole towns are still standing that may not have been if not for the heroism of the firefighters.  Our water supply was NOT contaminated, even though the fire was right on our lakes.

We have a lot to be thankful for, and those of us living here know it.  It was so bad, but it could have been so much worse.   So of course we’ve been showing our appreciation.

However, the words of the Incident Commander sadden me.

EVERYBODY who lives in the US is protected as heroically as my area has been.  Everybody who lives in the US has either a municipal (means paid) or a volunteer fire department in their area.  Men and women who are willing to go into danger to protect somebody else’s home and property.  Who are willing to put their lives and health at risk to save other people’s lives and homes.

*  *  *  *  *

When I was a little girl, I had massive physical health problems. From the time I was 2 months old until I was 3.5 years old, in winter I would get “strep throat” or “tonsillitis attacks” every other month. I’d have fevers of 106*F. The fevers would come on suddenly, going from normal to “OMG she’s going to DIE” levels in 1/2 hour or less. Of course my family would call the ambulance (part of the fire department in that city, in the late 60′s). Of course they would always get me and rush me to the hospital, where they’d treat my symptoms and release me when the fever was gone (until I was three and they could operate, that is).

When I was a bit older, we had an almost house fire in our house. (Somebody had thrown cigarettes that weren’t completely out into the trash, which caused a smoldering toxic fire to start.) I remember being woken up and carried downstairs and outside the house (my bedroom, was on the second floor) by a strange man. I remember him being gentle and considerate of a scared little girl crying because a strange man was carrying her out of her bed.

Sometime after this, I remember going with my grandmother to our local fire house, the one where the ambulances always came from to take me to the hospital, the one where the fire truck came from to save our house, and our lives. One spring, at least once a month, Grandma and I would go to the fire house and drop off cookies, or apple slices, or some other baked good that my grandmother had made. The reason was to say, “Thank you.” “Thank you for saving my granddaughter all those times. And thank you for saving my house and all of our lives.”

Conall’s Mom’s house was one that was destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire. There were 1500 firefighters working the fire before it was all over (not counting military personnel), from all over the country. There’s no way I can bake goods for all the people who helped protect my city, and the towns and cities around me. However, when things are more settled, I will be going to my local fire house, with baked goods, to say, “Thank you.”

Even if you all have never had to use fire fighters or EMS services (and I bet everybody reading this knows somebody who’s either had a house burn or somebody who’s been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance), I would challenge you to take something to your local Fire Department, just to say “thank you.” Because of their willingness to sacrifice themselves, your house, your city, has protection. If you’ve ever had to use their services, I double challenge you to do something to show your appreciation.

Because these people give so much, and receive so little.  They are the reason we don’t have to think about things like what happened in Colorado Springs (where a fire destroyed a whole neighborhood and came close to destroying multiple towns and cities).

So, again, I challenge you, I *dare* you, to do something for your local fire department, to show that you, specifically, appreciate their daily sacrifice.  It doesn’t need to be a home baked good (though that’s what I’m going to do when I’m more recovered from my smoke inhalation).  It could be as simple as a “thank you” card.  Or a posted sign in your front yard that reads, “Thank you Fire Fighters!”

Just show them that you care.

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3 Responses

  1. Hey, Bronwen:

    I’m in The Springs, too! It’s been amazing to see the power of the fire and the response to it: both by the first responders and the community. I have to say it’s left me changed. I live on the West Side, and, though we didn’t even reach pre-evacuation, I do feel a bit vulnerable after it all.

    Thanks for the reminder to appreciate our fire-fighters. Also, blessings to your mother-in-law. We have had a few friends lose homes, and I know it is traumatic.

    • Conall and I are going to see the … property tomorrow. I’m not sure I’m ready for it, but Conall is insistent. This experience has changed me a lot as well, and I was on the other side of the city from the fires. Watching Conall go to work every day, at the Air Force Academy when it was closed to all but “mission-essential personnel” gave me a new appreciation for what the loved ones of the firefighters have to deal with on a regular occasion.

  2. Yes I need to. Will make a batch or two of brownies (two, for two watches) to take to the local station that I know has been to the house for both me and stupid (ex-roommate). I’ve always wanted to bring water bottles out to the police that pull duty during the races, but they are on duty, no idea if that’s allowed or not, nor any way to really find out if it’s ok.

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