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Kaleena Menke: My View of the Colorado Wildfires

11 Jul

Humanist Crisis ResponseThis is a guest post by Kaleena Menke. Kaleena is a student in mechanical engineering at UC Denver. She blogs at Own the Day and tweets at @kaleenamenke. Kaleena asks that you please donate to Foundation Beyond Belief’s Humanist Crisis Response to support firefighters battling the Colorado wildfires.

I was still in Ohio finishing up my week volunteering as a camp counselor for Camp Quest when the Waldo Canyon Fire started near my childhood home in Colorado Springs on Saturday, June 23. By the time I flew home, the fire was already national news. As I walked through the Denver airport I was frustrated by everyone just going about their business WHILE MY STATE IS BURNING DOWN! I suppose each person has their own problems to think about but I wanted everyone to be as concerned as I am. (Massive East Coast storms and power outages anyone? I know that was going on, but it was barely a blip on my radar. And that’s just the United States!) When the fire started, my niece was visiting with my parents on her summer vacation. She helped my parents pack up in preparation for the evacuation with an occasional, “Grandma, do you think Kaleena will want this?” She could clearly see the fires, especially at night, and wrote this poem about the experience on the second day of the fire:

When the canyon fire struck / In their homes all were stuck / Little children scared and weeping / And in town ashes sweeping / So when they saw the flames, blood red / They soon were very filled with dread / I sat thinking at the table / Wondering if we were able / To bare that fire away ~ Emily, age 9

Tuesday was the nightmare day. The fire more than doubled in size and forced thousands more people to be evacuated, including my parents. I was once again stunned by my apathetic neighbors in Denver, only 60 miles away, going about their business as usual while the fire consumed my thoughts and my time for the better part of a week. I attempted to escape from the non-stop news coverage by first taking a long nap and then later watching a baseball game at a nearby bar but each time I checked back in with the real world the fire had grown significantly. I continually reminded myself and high school friends affected by the fire that “My family is safe. Your family is safe. Only things are in danger of being burned.” 


Burning houses in Colorado Springs on Tuesday (Helen H. Richardson – The Denver Post) 

Emily only had one day left in Colorado, and after she lived through the evacuation, I offered to have her stay with me to avoid the horror of watching houses burn and the poor air quality. On Wednesday, I had a full apartment when my friend’s parents took me up on my offer to stay when they were evacuated. I wasn’t expecting their arrival to overlap with my niece’s stay but opening my home was the least I could do. I had an overly full house for several nights.


Evacuation of northwestern Colorado Springs on Tuesday (Rick Wilking – Reuters) 

This particular wildfire is nearly contained, but not before 346 families living on the edge of Colorado Springs lost their homes and two people lost their lives. Life has slowly returned to normal for me, but a new normal in which some of my favorite hiking trails will be blackened with fire scarring. You know that feeling of helplessness you have when there’s not a darn thing you can do? Sometimes that’s true, but not this time. While my parents’ house is undamaged, there are currently still nine wildfires actively burning in Colorado, and we haven’t even hit the hottest months of the year yet. The Humanist Crisis Response through Foundation Beyond Belief is taking donations to support several local firefighter departments as the Colorado wildfire season continues, and I hope you consider supporting their valiant efforts.

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