A Mini Interview with Kathy Giuffre of Colorado about the Wildfires There

Colorado-Springs-Waldo-Canyon-Fire-June-26-2012
Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, June 2012

So, Kathy, tell us, what’s happening with the wildfires out there? 

We still have about half a dozen fires going in Colorado right now.  The nearest one to us is on the north side of town — the Black Forest fire.  It is now 100% contained, which means it isn’t spreading outside its boundaries any more, but it is still burning.  It is the most destructive fire in Colorado history, replacing last summer’s Waldo Canyon fire (also on the north side of town) as the all time champ.  Some people we know lost their houses.  My friend Craig was showing me the pictures he took of his dad’s house — nothing left but a chimney sticking up into the air out of the ashes.

One way that we see evidence of the fires is that when the wind patterns shift around during the evening, the whole city is covered in really thick smoke, so thick that you think your own house is on fire.  There was a story in the newspaper asking people not to call 911 unless they actually see flames because the dispatchers are overwhelmed with people calling in saying that something MUST be on fire for there to be this much smoke.

And I guess that’s the other evidence that we see — everyone’s really jumpy.  My son and I have both had fire nightmares this week.  We have other friends who are having a hard time coping with the stress.  Apparently, people who live in wildfire zones often end up with PTSD and I can see how it could happen.  The fires can happen anywhere at any time.  They move really, really fast.  You can lose everything you own in a matters of minutes.  People die.  The two people who died in the Black Forest fire were found in the garage with the car doors open — they were evacuating, but didn’t have time.  Craig’s dad is OK, but he didn’t even have time to put on his shoes.

That sounds really stressful. Are people hoping that the worst is over now that the Black Forest Fire is contained? I can imagine it would be very hard for elderly people or people with breathing problems.

How many years have you lived in CO and is this the worst it’s ever been? How is the community holding up?

I think the thing is that no one here thinks the worst of it is over.  The fire season has just barely started.  More fires will break out all summer long.  People have their Evac kits packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

It’s not that this is the worst it’s ever been — it’s that this is the new normal.  This is the future for everyone in the west — the result of global climate change.  In the east, I guess you will have flooding and hurricanes.  In the south and the midwest, there will be tornadoes.  Here in the west, it is wildfires brought on by the drought that has been going on for years now.  My dog is ten years old and she is so unfamiliar with rain that she refuses to go outside if it is raining.  Water falling from the sky is such a rare occurrence in her life that it totally freaks her out.  It actually drizzled for about 20 minutes last week and everyone on my street went to stand out on their front porches to look at it.  We’ve had more wildfires this week than we’ve had rainstorms this whole year.

So, yeah, it is very bad for elderly people, kids, and anyone with breathing problems like asthma.  There is an air quality warning in effect and we’re all supposed to stay inside as much as possible.  Yesterday afternoon, the sun was an amazing blood red all afternoon and the sky was sulphur yellow.

It’s kind of like living in a Mad Max movie.  Only, you know, with pie.

Do you feel like abandoning Colorado in the midst of this? How is the community where you live-Colorado Springs–coping?

Well, if there is a  bright side to this, it’s that it brings the community together.  Usually Colorado Springs is sort of like a suburb without a city — not much communal feeling.  But people have come together in the face of this.

I have had lots of discussions about “evacuation ideologies” with people.  It’s an interesting question: you know that every single thing you own is going to be destroyed except for what you can put in your car.  So what would you bring?  There are a few different ways of approaching it: just let everything go, just grab the important legal documents, just try to get the meaningful mementoes, just take one treasure, just take the laptops, just take the valuable stuff.  It’s not that there’s a right answer — it’s that we learn so much about each other when we sit around and talk about it.  And it’s a topic of conversation that certainly crosses all sorts of social divides of race, class, etc.

It doesn’t seem like there’s any point in abandoning Colorado, though.  There’s no escape from global climate change.  I mean, I could take the kids and go to my parents’ house, but they are having tornadoes, so there doesn’t seem much point in that.  Is the cicadapocalpyse still going on?  Where is that happening?

 

Kathy Giuffre was born and raised in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas where her family goes back at least five generations.  She is the author of “An Afternoon in Summer: My Year in the South Seas” and lives in Colorado with her husband and two sons. Her NPR radio show is called “Off Topic” and can be heard every Saturday morning on KRCC 91.5 FM or anytime aofftopicradio.org