Paul Andersen: Lessons from the fire
Want to know what it’s like to be a refugee? Ask any of the thousands who were evacuated from their homes during the Lake Christine Fire.
They might tell you how it feels to be homeless, living in a temporary shelter, uncertain about their futures, their properties, their families, their lives — all the while relying on a generous, supportive community.
Then consider global refugees who flee their homes because of war, political repression, famine, hurricanes, volcanoes and floods. Instead of seeking shelter from a forest fire, they run from bullets, mortars, tanks and poison gas. They seek asylum in Europe and the U.S., only to be rebuffed at closed borders.
The fire that made refugees of our neighbors should be renamed for the perpetrators, not the place. The fire that scorched thousands of acres and burned three homes and put thousands of residents out of their houses and clouded the skies for days and still smolders — this fire should be called the Richard Karl Miller and Allison Sarah Marcus Fire.
But rather than vilify and scorn these young naifs, the community must forgive. For that to happen, Richard and Allison should make a public apology at the next community fire debriefing.
An apology would give them the opportunity to ask forgiveness, and it would give the community a chance to forgive. Like the scorched landscape, healing for Richard and Allison will be slow and difficult, but healing works best from a direct confrontation with acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
The same forgiveness should be extended to Perry Will, district wildlife manager for area 8 of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. A public apology and offer to resign his position should have been Will’s message at the onset rather than deflecting responsibility by claiming not to have received crucial phone calls from local government agencies seeking cooperation.
Instead, Will defended himself and his agency for the lack of a “crystal ball” to intelligently assess the obvious extreme fire hazard and for not closing, or at least supervising, the Basalt shooting range.
Will’s ultimate defense was that it was better to keep the range open rather than to force shooters into the wild for their totally unnecessary Second Amendment gratification.
Not that it really mattered, as CPW and other public lands, plus three homes, were incinerated because of lax management of the range at a highly volatile time. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has since called for stronger regulations at Parks and Wildlife gun ranges.
Will should have done what Basalt and Rural Fire Chief Scott Thompson did when he admitted, “We kinda failed.” Thompson had the courage to take responsibility for the shifting winds during the early outbreak of the fire.
The chief took the heat, so to speak, with a painful mea culpa and deserves respect and support for his best efforts and those of his firefighters — all of whom acted heroically in committing themselves, mostly as volunteers, to the safety of their neighbors.
Responsibility must be spread further still by calling on gun owners to voluntarily restrict their activities when two wildfires — Lake Christine and Wolcott — have now scorched thousands of acres because of errant gunfire.
Add forest fires to school shootings as another mark against the reckless gun lobby. But none of this is about gun rights; it’s about the common sense of holding back on trigger pulls for the sake of community safety and respect for public lands and wildlife.
Personal lessons come when the smoke chokes your lungs as you watch the fire run toward your home, as my family did up the Frying Pan. Of your possessions, what do you save and what do you leave? How do you say goodbye to the home you have built with your own hands?
Most of the things you take have emotional weight, things that mark times in your life that cannot be recreated, personal touchstones like photo albums, artwork, musical instruments, books and random belongings that define the life you have made in this beautiful valley.
Fire puts life into perspective. Fire reveals the interconnections of man and nature. Fire displays the irrevocable force of destruction. Fire reaffirms the value of home and community.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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