There are a few things that are distinctly Colorado: delicious microbrews, the stunningly blue sky, mountains, and the Denver Broncos. This team is as much a part of the ethos of Colorado culture as climbing 14ers and skiing. Speaking from a native’s perspective, the Denver Broncos are part of our upbringing. I imagine (and hope) that kids are still on playgrounds claiming that they “get to be” their favorite players they way I routinely claimed Vance Johnson and Steve Atwater. The Denver Broncos are part of Colorado’s identity and makeup.
Sadly over the past decade, wildfires have made their unwelcome way onto this list. On Tuesday night, I sat with my wife and sister-in-law as wildfire became a part of our history as well.
The Waldo Canyon Fire in the Rampart Range above Colorado Springs has been burning since Saturday, and fire crews had done a remarkable job of compiling resources and using the natural topography of Queen’s Canyon to mitigate explosive growth. We all know about the historic heat, the bone-dry conditions, and the unpredictable winds over the last week, so given the fuel this fire had to work with it was nearly a miracle that no structures had been lost save for a small structure on the property of Eagle Lake Camps.
On Tuesday, with an all-time record temperature of 101 degrees and a nearby thunderstorm creating a downdraft, the fire jumped Queen’s Canyon and cascaded down the range’s most eastern ridge at 65 miles per hour. The ensuing hours became a firestorm of “epic proportions.” Home after home was inundated by flames. The city took on a blood red haze that many were describing as “apocalyptic.” The entire west side of town, some 32,000 people, were ordered to evacuate for fear of how unpredictably fast this fire was moving through town as it jumped from structure to structure. In its wake, this monster has left 100 or more homes totally destroyed.
The next morning I texted my good friend who is a member of the Colorado Springs Fire Department to see how he was doing (he just that morning had finished a 90-hour shift battling the fire before getting the call for all personnel to report).
“Headed back up to the fire today,” he texted.
“Have you slept at all?!?” I replied. “Did you ever expect to see anything like last night?”
“No. Everything was on fire. Heartbreaking, bro.” Then came the question I knew he would ask about. “Did you hear any word on your in-laws’ house?”
My wife’s parents are phenomenal people. The kind of folks you spend the weekend with and continuously wonder on the drive home, “why am I not more like them?” They are selfless, giving, and hospitable. Their house reflects that. It’s built to host. It’s designed as an outpouring of their grace. Sadly, it was well within the swath of this unstoppable force that invaded from the hillside.
As of this being published, there is no official confirmation on the state of their house. Fire behavior creates a mosaic, much like a tornado. One house may be standing sentinel over a devastated neighborhood while one lone casualty might be amongst the homes that survived. You just don’t know until you see it.
“We sat on a hilltop last night,” my father-in-law told us, “it was dark, you could see blazes all over and we knew that one of those blazes could possibly be our home.”
When the Broncos announced on Wednesday that they were going to be pledging $50,000 to wildfire relief efforts in Colorado, it resonates with my family’s story and with so many who are enduring this experience.
Pat Bowlen owner of the Broncos had this to say:
On behalf of the Denver Broncos, I extend our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by the devastating fires throughout Colorado and the region. In particular, my thoughts are with those who have lost their homes or live in the evacuation areas.
I also would like to commend the dedication of the firefighters, medical personnel, volunteers and the numerous organizations that are working around the clock to respond to these tragedies. Their contributions are heroic, selfless and truly immeasurable.
“This is our home, and we need to do whatever we can to take care of our neighbors. If at all possible, I encourage our fans to help however they can in providing relief during this time of need.
Thanks to the Broncos for embedding themselves into our lives and into the lives of many Coloradans.
If you would like more information on giving to relief efforts, please visit www.helpcoloradonow.org.