Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tale of two forest fires

It's been just two months since a forest fire in the French Creek State Park and Hopewell area gamelands caused an evacuation of homes along Sycamore Road in Union Township and St. Peters Road in North Coventry. At the time I told my brother who lives in the Black Forest area of Colorado that I thought forest fires were more a threat to his home than to mine.
This week, I recalled those words, as well as my own evacuation dilemmas, as I called him to check on his household amid the raging Waldo Canyon fires.

My brother, Jim Egolf and his wife JoAnne live on the north side of Colorado Springs in the middle of usually tranquil forest, Pike's Peak visible from their deck.
He assured me this fire is too far off to endanger their home, but they are concerned nonetheless. The entire state is like a tinderbox, he said, and the concern is that one lightning strike, one errant spark from a target shooter, one cigarette butt, one careless act of burning could consume their side of the city as well.
"It's not this fire we're worried about," he said. "It's fear of where the next one breaks out."
They spent Wednesday night mapping out an evacuation plan. JoAnne took photos of belongings -- furniture, appliances, china and keepsakes -- for insurance purposes should they be destroyed. They went room to room, deciding what to take and what could stay behind.
"She's like you and wants the sentimental things," he laughed. "I think of the practical stuff and want to make sure we have all the financial records."
The conversation was somewhat surreal: I talked about my experience April 10, hurriedly taking the computer tower, the dog and the lockbox. He talked about their plans to fill two cars with the necessities, (the dog) and if they had enough time, make a second trip for more possessions.
The situation in Colorado is more massive, encompassing and threatening than our stubborn woods fire in April, but the similarities are striking.
"The help people offer each other is amazing," he said. I recalled how a stranger reached out to me on Twitter the night of our evacuation offering to pet-sit Sydney.

In Colorado Springs, the food banks asked for help, and then asked people to stay away because the line of cars to donate food was creating a traffic jam. Here, St. Peters Road residents closest to the fire cooked meals for the volunteer firefighters to show their appreciation.
He told me friends visiting from back East last week took the train up to Pike's Peak, and from the summit saw a tiny plume of smoke in the area of Waldo Canyon. By the time they reached the bottom of the mountain, the black smoke was filling the sky.

Here, in April, the scanner report in the newsroom that a brush fire had broken out was followed about an hour later with calls that smoke was seen as far as Limerick.
In both cases, strong winds and the "tinderbox" conditions caused by severe drought combined to fuel a terrifying force of nature as flames moved quickly along ridges and through valleys.
Jim told me elderly people are having breathing problems. Someone he knows was coaching an adult softball game when one of the players had a heart attack. His golf league suspended play this week because of air quality.
He said his phone has been busy with friends and family back East calling to check on them.
His account matched the experiences other local transplants to Colorado Springs have posted to The Mercury Facebook page. Most people are in their homes, safe, just as most people in the Pottstown area were safe at home during the April fires here.
We're still affected though. The reality check of looking around your home to consider what you'll miss most should it go up in flames is an experience that stays with you. It's now an experience my brother and I share.

No comments:

Post a Comment