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This story comes from Rebecca Hale, vice president of the American Humanist Association and owner of EvolveFish.com, who experienced the Colorado Springs wildfires firsthand. To support the firefighters still rebuilding in the aftermath of the Colorado wildfires, visit the FBB Humanist Crisis Response page.
The first we knew of the Waldo Canyon and Colorado Springs wildfires was as we were headed out of town to hang out with Tom Kellogg and other atheists at the Kellogg Ranch. It seemed distant, another forest fire. We'd smell smoke and most likely see a haze in the air. We never imagined it would reach the city itself. As we returned home two days later we were greeted with news of evacuations in Manitou Springs and other mountain towns. It still felt distant. On Tuesday, as I drove from the downtown area toward home, I watched with a sense of impending doom as the flames leaped up and over the edges of the nearest ridge. The flames were clearly visible. People stopped their cars, got out, and watched in stunned awe. Within a few hours the sky was dark. I had been in Washington state when Mount St. Helens blew and was familiar with the feel of ash on my face and skies that darken long before the sun sets. This time the danger was clear, as our home sits in a heavily wooded area, just across the highway from the speeding fire; if it crossed the highway, we were in big trouble. We talked about where we would evacuate to, how much we could take, and staged boxes and suitcases around the house and waited for the pre-evacuation order.
Fortunately for us, the evacuation order never came. The biggest effect on us is that we wake each morning to a western landscape of charred hills, a constant reminder of how fragile everything really is. The firefighters stood their ground and stopped the fire before it reached the highway. Colorado Springs lost more than 340 homes, mostly upper middle class. A few of our friends were evacuated. As far as we know only one couple lost their home. The area that burned wasn't like the 5th Ward in New Orleans; most everyone is middle and upper middle class—they had insurance. This is not where financial help is needed.
The firefighters are the ones who needed the help. They are the ones who got varying degrees of help. It was sad to find out that the federal temporary firefighters did not have health insurance. The lack of health insurance for these modern-day warriors (many are First Nations people, others are college students on summer break) seems to have been addressed by President Obama. The Federal Wildland Firefighters are now to be offered health insurance, although they will have to pay for it.
As soon as our fire was under control, the Federal Wildland Firefighters loaded up and moved on to the next blaze. Homemade signs thanking the firefighters are scattered all over the effected parts of the city. The sense of gratitude and amazement at the determination, skill, and dedication of these firefighters remains with us. Each morning we awake to the charred landscape of our beautiful mountains and give thanks ... to the firefighters.