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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Early in the spring when we made plans to take Sherman’s 88-year-old mother to see the Colorado Rockies play for her Mother’s Day gift, we looked for a game day when the weather would suit Goldilocks—you know, not too cold or too hot, but just right. Our choice of Tuesday night June 11—so reasonable sounding when some snow and cool temps made May games so chilly—turned out to be about a week late. That day Denver hit a new record for June 11: 100 degrees.

Ugh, right? Luckily our seats in the shade kept us from roasting. However, they also afforded us a view of smoke that had drifted north from a couple brand new fires north of Colorado Springs. So while we were reasonably comfortable at the game we could see that the drying winds were nobody’s friend, especially for those whose homes were about to go up in flames (as of this writing at least 360 homes are no more).

At least while we were out at the ballgame, the air quality was still OK for older people, such as my mother-in-law, and younger people with asthma, such as my son and me.

Here we go again, I thought. Even before the pervasive campfire smell reached our neighborhoods about an hour north of the still raging destruction, I conceded to taking my running workout inside. Although I distracted myself by carrying a lightweight Playaway “book” that read to me of happenings on a cool and wet shoreline in Great Britain, the changing orange tint of the sky outside reminded me that the heat and dry winds were worsening the battles our neighbors to the south were fighting. This air quality might not be good for me, but at least I can retreat to my own safe home.

Up here in Denver the smoke puts a damper on our outside activities, but where the fires burn, everyday life is changing forever for many, including their animals. My friend who lives on land south of the area says she is playing Dr. Dolittle; in addition to sheltering many more big dogs than usual in her kennel, she is taking care of bunnies, horses, mini-donkeys, llamas, goats, chickens, cats, and salamanders.

So tired of this constant dryness and knowing that our forests and prairies are not safe places for homes. Though forecasters have given out warnings all winter and spring about the fire risks, it’s still hard to face the worst. The arrival of summer is supposed to bring active times outside for people and their animals, but evacuating property is not the sort of activity anyone anticipated with joy—nor is returning to see what is gone.

If the Three Bears’ little cottage in the Woods were here in Colorado, Goldilocks would have to run away as fast as she could—not from bears, but from fire. These wildfires are definitely too hot—oh no, there is nothing just right about them at all.

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

Most of us have things we fear more than others. Sometimes those fears are common occurrences and sometimes they are not. I had one friend who was afraid of finding shards of glass while drinking. As far as I know, he’d never experienced anything like that, but there you have it.

One thing that holds no attraction for me is fire—which isn’t quite the same as a phobia, but maybe only because I try hard not to be around it so I don’t have to think about it. Or maybe I just haven’t admitted it’s a phobia until now . . . when so much of my state is burning.

My brother Scott was just the opposite. He was always fascinated by fire, although I’m sure his opinion changed somewhat in past years after experiencing a raging old-style prairie fire (other than all the modern suburban structures in the way) that ended about 300 yards from his home in Oklahoma.

Still, the 60s were more innocent times—kids weren’t nearly so protected from dangers in their homes, but if my dad, a smoker, left out his lighter or matches, Scott couldn’t stay away from them. I remember countless times his tricycle (that says something about his age) got put up in punishment for his playing with fire. I even remember that once he and my mild-mannered cousin almost started a fire in my parents’ bedroom—otherwise they weren’t rebellious kids at all—does being a fire sign really make that much of a difference?

And legal firework season? That kid was in heaven. When we were really young we lived in a neighborhood surrounded by retired people while most of our school friends lived on farms. Scott really had a hard time amusing himself, except for when he had firecrackers. Yes, in the 60s grade-school-aged kids often used fireworks unsupervised. I remember him running around with a lit punk in his hand, lighting strings of firecrackers in various places in our yard and sidewalk. Nothing bad happened either.

But I could never even get beyond feeling scared of that moment when the tip on the matchstick ignited in flames.

Later we moved to a newer neighborhood, which on the prairie means there wouldn’t be good-sized trees for decades. One time warring pop bottle rockets started a small grass fire—once again, not that unusual for the 70s either.

If I’m really honest, I can tell you that all that fire safety information I learned in 5th grade scared me even more. I kept my door shut and felt to see if it was hot before I left my bedroom. A constant insomniac while I lived in that newer ranch-styled house on the prairie, I used to worry about flames licking through the house, trapping us all in our bedrooms where I would probably be the first to break through the screens because I had been waiting all those years for fire.

My asthma was misdiagnosed for years, so maybe all these weird childhood fears come down to the fact that fire is especially bad for people with underlying breathing problems. But at the end of the day, smoke and pollution (which all housing-related smoke is filled with due to all the chemicals in our building products and our possessions) are my biggest breathing triggers.

All these fires burning in my adopted state are pretty far from me, even if I can see the smoke and our air quality is affected slightly by them, depending on which direction the wind blows. But the pictures of what these people near the fires are experiencing are terrifying. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see my house flame up and disappear while knowing that if I don’t leave, I, too, will disappear. These fires are so intense right now that I doubt anyone has time to worry about how the scenery around them is changing for our lifetimes. Right now what’s happening is like something from a horror movie, only the smoke and flames are real, as are the fears, unlike in my past experiences.

The feeling when we visited Fort Collins earlier this month, with its orange sky and the falling ashes, seemed post-apocalyptic, but these scenes playing out on the west side of Colorado Springs seem apocalyptic with no “post” in sight.

And, then I have to think how my friend in the Woodland Park area asked others not to spread rumors and to stay calm and to work through all this together. My response, “And carry a towel?” (It’s true, though I can’t stay awake through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, my family has taught me enough of the catch phrases to remember the humor.)

Just because I have an irrational phobia and others have very rational phobias developed by what they are experiencing doesn’t mean it does anyone any good to panic.

In times like these, we do need to keep calm—as well as maintain our humor, help one another, and follow fire bans.

While I don’t think it will harm us any to carry a towel, especially a wet one, I think carrying prayers with us is an even better idea. So, don’t panic, carry a towel, and pray—without ceasing.

(Christian Science Monitor June 27, 2012 article link re: Waldo Canyon fire)

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert, Fort Collins, CO 06.17.12

Sitting in my darkened house with the swamp cooler running, I can almost convince myself that today is just another typical hot summer day. In my mind all I have to do is stay inside and avoid the heat—which is true in many ways for me, living in my suburb of metropolitan Denver.

However, while hot air awaits me outside, for many others there is little refuge from nearby flames. Latest reports show twelve* active fires burning throughout the state. After an incredibly dry winter and spring in Colorado, these first days of summer are showing no mercy either—rain may be our fervent desire, but so far she is playing more than hard to get.

Just as predicted earlier in the year as the snow pack failed to accumulate anything beyond historic low levels and then disappeared in record time, this summer of 2012 has set itself up to compare with the summer of 2002—you know, the summer when then-Governor Bill Owens was skewered for speaking honestly and declaring that “all of Colorado was burning.”

Boards of tourism and PR flacks aside, that’s exactly what the people of Colorado thought. Back then, my asthma was much less under control and I cringed to see the ashes falling. Those of us not affected by losing our homes and/or beautiful views were still pushed inside.

Here we go again—except during the last decade the pine-beetle epidemic has killed and/or sickened many trees in our forests, turning previously healthy trees into additional fuel for fires. And, drought conditions + pine-beetle kill=tinderboxes just waiting for wayward lightning strikes or human carelessness. (Click here to read an explanation on the connection between the pine beetles and the High Park fire in Larimer County.) Supposedly half the nation’s wildfire firefighters are here in Colorado.

I know this isn’t really about me and my asthma. Somewhere outside my cool walls, a lot of people have lost their homes while others’ homes remain in harm’s way. Others are risking their lives to protect homes and lives and livelihoods.

Pray that weather change comes to soak the lands—“monsoon season” can’t arrive soon enough.

* By the time I posted this in the afternoon, the number of active fires reported on had been reduced to seven active fires–and that’s good news!

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