Trial by Fires

(About the Hyde Park Fire near Fort Collins)

They have been worrying about “the big one” for years.  Certain areas of Colorado have been so dry for so long that many experts predicted a season of uncontrollable wildfires as “imminent”.  In addition to the lack of rain in the foothills, thousands of lodge pole pines have been killed by beetles and are so dry they might as well be matchsticks waiting for ignition.  Among these trees are where many of our church families live, and where many others hold property.

The High Park Fire, just west and north of Fort Collins was a lightning caused fire that spread so fast it became a monster overnight.  Low humidity, strong winds, and tinder dry ground cover gave us no chance for an early response.  Entire neighborhoods were evacuated in such a hurry that many residents had to make instant decisions on what to take with them, and what to leave behind, knowing their homes and belongings may very well be gone forever.  Howard, a widower who teaches our senior adult class, whose mountain home was in the area first affected, had to leave so fast that he barely had time to pack some clothes and necessary items for an undetermined stay in town.  I asked him what he thought to take with him and he laughingly said, “For some reason I thought to grab my pool cue on the way out.”  It’s funny the things you think of when in that kind of situation.

He did stay in town for several days not knowing the status of his property.  The fire had spread to other places and away from his area before he finally got the news that his house was one of those that was lost in the early stages of the fire.  A lifetime of memories went up in smoke, and this man, at this stage of his life, is now faced with the decision to re-build on his property or settle out and move into town.  You can see the grief in his eyes.

Several other of our families also had to evacuate, some twice, some three separate times, as the fire moved erratically with the changing winds.  One couple hosted another refugee family only to become refugees themselves as the fire threatened their area.  Thankfully these did not lose their homes.  While they wondered about their property they stayed with relatives in town.  We had special prayers in our meetings for them and for others in the state which were also facing impending destruction.

We could see the smoke plumes rising up.  As the heat of the day gave rise to the smoke it looked like a volcanic eruption!   Several times in Fort Collins, when the wind shifted, we were inundated with smoke, soot, and ash.  At times we could see the angry orange flames just across the lake as the fires spread to the east sides of the foothills.  Scary stuff.   We had to cancel one Wednesday night service because the smoke was so heavy in town.

It is strange how going through something like this personally sensitizes you to the news reports of fires elsewhere.  Other fires popped up all over the state, the most notable being the Waldo Canyon Fire west of Colorado Springs.  We watched the news in shock as entire subdivisions were burned down house by house, street by street, and block by block.  Every one of those houses belonged to our fellow Coloradoans, our neighbors, our friends.  Those who lost their homes were sometimes interviewed on the news.  Grown men, women, and children cried unashamed on camera as they tried to answer questions from reporters about their homes.

Good neighbors pull together in times like these.  Colorado’s churches stepped up to provide shelter, support, comfort, and love for those who had to flee in the night, and for those who have been working so hard for so long to fight the fires.  People can’t say enough good things about these heroes, many of them from neighboring states, who work in harsh and dangerous conditions to contain these fires.  Because of their efforts many homes were saved that surely would have been lost otherwise.  In a different way, every pastor knows what it is like to work hard and rejoice to see some saved, but also to grieve about those who are lost. 

Marc Leverett - Bridge Church - Fort Collins, CO