The photographs and videos from a Colorado wildfire as the year ended are horrifying and heartbreaking. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed. Entire communities were evacuated. Lives were turned upside down in just a few hours.
Our thoughts, prayers — and eventually, financial assistance — are with the people in the towns near Boulder.
People are still sorting through the damage, but it appears more than 1,000 homes were burned in the fast-moving grass fire that destroyed some 6,000 acres. Some 35,000 people were evacuated. Already, the Marshall Fire has been designated the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. The combination of sparks, no moisture and hundred-mile-an-hour winds proved unstoppable.
This sort of fire will become more commonplace as the climate continues to heat up. A devastating December fire in Colorado is clear warning our way of life is changing faster than we can adapt — at least to date.
Those of us in New Mexico, facing the same drought conditions and warmer weather, know it is only a matter of time until a fire destroying homes and businesses surrounds our city. That’s why the work thinning forests and watersheds is so essential. We must reduce fuel so there is less to burn that day when a lightning strike, downed power line or careless human strikes the flame that rips through our wildlands.
We must keep our neighbors to the north in mind — the Boulder County Wildfire Fund has been established and can be found online at commfound.org/grants/get-grant/Boulder-County-Wildfire-Fund. Cash will be appreciated. Then, consider what preparations to make in case of fire right here at home.
Fire preparedness is generally a topic for discussion as spring approaches and the summer fire season is around the corner. Given the reality of the climate crisis, preparing for fire is now a year-round endeavor.
That means ensuring homes have defensible space. That means moving wood piles away from structures, removing flammable brush or branches and creating areas around the home designed to stop flames from approaching.
It’s important, too, to admit fire is one of those “not if but when” situations. People must get ready for the worst. Have an emergency overnight kit packed. Designate which photos or important papers need to be saved. Be ready to evacuate quickly and know a route to get to safety. In town, there likely will be more choices, but people who live on the edge of forests or other wild lands have fewer ways to exit. Knowing to get out immediately can be the difference — the videos from Boulder showed people having to exit the grocery store and get out. They moved and moved quickly.
As the fire spread, the world was watching. On New Year’s Eve, we saw people return to stand in front of obliterated homes. Everything was wiped out in the space of hours. Now comes the rebuilding in Boulder, and for much of the West — including Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico — there must be a renewed emphasis on fire prevention. The climate is changing, and so must our preparation and response.