There is smoke in the air. There is also urgency in the air. A nervous urgency.
At the time this article was written, 81,331 acres had burned in the West Fork Complex Fires. The fires were also 0 percent contained, meaning that they will likely grow and spread.
However, even though there is a painful unknown regarding how long the fires will burn and what, if any, towns or building or lives will be lost, I also feel a sense of peace that this community, in the broadest sense of the word, will continue to fight the fires together.
This sort of clarity of purpose and mission seems to only reveal itself during environmental disasters. The “enemy,” if it can or should be called that, is clear. We can’t put a face on it because it has no face. In this instance, the enemy is lightning and dead trees and beetles and steep slopes. Unlike Sandy Hook or the Aurora Shooting, no psychologist or psychiatrist can be blamed for not reporting that past behavior or warning signs of lightning. Blame has no place in this conversation.
However, in many ways, I feel like parts of Colorado, of the United States, of our world have been on fire for a long time. With many issues, there has already been a sense of urgency in the air. However, unlike the response to the West Fork Fires, this community’s response has been uncoordinated and at times opposed. Around issues of poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, educational attainment, LGBTQ equality, unemployment… there is so much fear. Fear coupled with and rooted in a basic lack of understanding of the issue.
I understand why. Hurricanes and tornadoes are easy to understand. Childhood obesity? Rising rates of incarceration? Poverty compounded by substance abuse? Child maltreatment? Not so simple.
As the fires burn, I’m thankful that we have a coordinated and hardworking emergency operation. While I’m thankful, I’m hopeful that when we discover other “fires” in our community, we will respond in-kind and address the need at hand without distraction and without fear.
Gena Akers can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.