Local communities stay strong in face of recent wildfires

I’ve never considered myself to be “in the crosshairs” of anything. However, a couple of weeks back, as a Mancos resident, the Weber Fire had me feeling like a deer that had stumbled upon the middle of hunting camp.

While standing on the south edge of town watching hundred foot flame lengths wind-whipped toward us while our vehicles were packed for potential evaluation, I had the sense that this fire could do whatever it wished; it had taken an undeniable leadership role in our lives.

Add the vigorous air and ground defense provided by the Type II Incident Command Team and town was beginning to look like a war zone. In fact, this is exactly what fire officials were telling us the experience would resemble; an unnerving experience to say the least.

At one point during the Weber Fire, I thought I’d go to Cortez for a change in scenery and a brief reprieve. While driving west past the Ute Mountain Rest Area, the smoke column from another fire came into view from the south. As I drove on, I watched the Escarpment Fire rising aloft.

It seemed wildfire was now marching on multiple fronts. Within days, nine named wildfires were burning in La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties. Add the High Park, Waldo Canyon and the numerous other fires along the front range, one could have made the case that all of Colorado was (indeed) burning.

Thankfully, recent monsoons and outstanding fire crews have provided decreased local fire activity and an opportunity for regrouping, unpacking and reflection.

Throughout the recent events, I remained engaged in helping implement our agency’s coordinated disaster response. I’ve heard it said that if you’re caught in a disaster in the backcountry, you should build a shelter, not only for safety and warmth, but to help take your mind off the situation and relieve stress. Looking back, emails and the phone calls made in support of response coordination – while keeping an eye on the advancing flame front – was my own “shelter-building” exercise.

It’s also been said that the more caring people we have in our lives, the greater our capacity for bouncing back from adversity becomes. From wearing two hats during the fires – one as potential evacuee and the other as a responder – I came to understand this as never before.

No matter how large the fires or ferocious the winds, the strength of community remained greater. The unprecedented magnitude of fires across the state brought responders together as one team: federal, state and local resources operating under a unified command, just as designed. This united front made all the difference.

I’m pleased to report that Axis Health System maintained its existing 24 hours/7 days a week crisis-support services throughout the fires and partnered with the Red Cross, Bridge Emergency Shelter (Cortez) and both health departments to provide increased outreach to people in need of crisis support.

In the coming weeks, our respective teams will continue to support our community’s resiliency during this exceptional fire season.

Mark White is the director of quality for Axis Health System. Reach him at mwhite@axishealthsystem.org or 335-2217.

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