Originally published on July 29, 2012 in the Curator Magazine, an arts and culture online journal.
As I write this, fires ravage my city. If I do a quick search online, I can see fire lick the hills behind my church, which sits in a neighborhood where my in-laws and two sets of family friends have homes filled with valuables and memories. There are reports of buildings burning to the ground, burning to a pile of black ash. The air is filled with smoke, even in my part of the city twenty miles from the flames, and we can hardly see the mountains because of the haze. Thousands of people have fled their homes with just the essentials. They are camping in hotels and on the friends’ living room floors, waiting for things to return to normal.
I live in Colorado Springs, a sprawling city of 500,000 people. It takes an hour from north to south or east to west to cross by car, and it sits in the valley below Pikes Peak, a bare and striking mountain in the Rockies.
The fires started because Colorado is a desert. The landscape is a combination of dirt plains and forested mountains, but this year we have only received 20 percent of the rain we expected; in other words, we are in a major drought. Naturally, only evergreens would color the landscape with life; an on-looker would see only a subtle palette of browns, yellows, and oranges across the plains and the evergreens covering the mountainsides. But now, you can see brown smoke and bold orange flames on the ridge lines of our mountains. You would imagine that they were once dormant volcanos now awake in violent fury, but really, the fires are stripping them of their beauty.
Last Saturday, friends were told to evacuate their homes voluntarily, if they felt like it, because a fire had begun in a far-off canyon. We had a party with a family of evacuees and cooked frozen pizzas on the grill to keep the insides of our houses cool. We ate a cream pie for dessert and chatted through the evening.
But then the winds picked up to sixty-five miles per hour and the blazes grew out of control. We stepped outside our door Sunday morning and smelled a barbecue like it was a neighbor’s grill. No one could contain it. The temperature sky-rocketed to 100 degrees with no rain in sight. Church on Sunday was cancelled.
Then we heard that a nearby tourist spot, a ranch, no longer existed. The structure and its insides were gone, consumed. We received a call from my in-laws, worried about their house. Friends texted from far-away places — they’d heard about the fires on CNN. We heard that the “navy seals” of firefighters were called in to serve and that the Pentagon had released an order for the Air Force Academy to send planes to dump water over the blaze.
On Wednesday, my husband found a photo of our church online. We gasped to see the field beside it lit up. Only a parking lot separates it from the fire. Our church spent years raising money to erect this building, now only a couple of years old, and we may never set foot inside again.
My in-laws’ house is also in the path of the fire. Though they now live on the east coast, they lived in the house for over twenty years and have a title on file. My husband may never again see the house he grew up in.
Our friends may never return to their homes to eat a meal or take a mid-afternoon nap, and if they do, the rolling hills where deer used to wander will be blackened and empty. One family just moved into their house and filled it with treasures collected from a life of travels.
They say the fire could have begun by arson, but what’s the use in speculating? Whether someone lit a match out of malice or forgot to stir the embers in their campfire to grey, the fire began. It lives and breathes. One article said the fire “exploded” and compared our plight to a war. We are under attack and the enemy knows no moral bounds.