The first and most important thing Herald and Journal readers need to know about the Marshall Fire in Boulder County was clearly outlined in a photo published New Year’s Day. That picture, courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes, showed a CDOT snowplow leading a caravan of fire engines and emergency vehicles from La Plata and Montezuma counties over Wolf Creek Pass enroute to help fight the fire.
Forget the politicians, movie stars, rock gods and sports heroes. That picture showed the real America. And those folks do us proud.
Beyond that, though, the Marshall Fire provides a lot to think about, for Southwest Colorado, the state as a whole and for the entire American West. Simply put, monster fires are becoming way too common, and in the face of that, we cannot go on with business as usual.
The Marshall Fire – presumably called that because it started near a Marshall Road – has been described as the most destructive fire in Colorado history. After all, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed. (Give that a moment of thought. How many homes are there in Durango or Cortez?)
What is the most disturbing, however, is thinking about how many times in recent years a wildfire has been described as the worst in the state’s history? It seems to be becoming a regular event.
Not that there was anything normal about this fire. It was a grass fire. No forest was nearby. It was driven by winds that topped 100 miles per hour. It happened at the end of December. And it effectively took out two Colorado towns, Superior and Louisville (pronounced “Lewisville,” not “Looeyville.”)
Coloradans are accustomed to weather in the winter, but that should mean snowstorms, shoveling, dangerous driving and snowball fights. It should not mean drought and wildfire.
Our first, and most important, public policy response has to be ending silly denial of what is going on around us. Call it climate change, call it global warming, call it what you will, but recognize that something is happening, and we need to address it. Exactly what that will mean will rightfully be the subject of much discussion, but we need to get past outright denial.
We should also look at things like land-use planning and building codes. If 1,000 homes can go up in smoke that fast – in what was already a tight housing market – perhaps houses need to be built differently. Again, the details will need to be worked out, but the effort has to begin.
Most immediately we need to do what we can to help our fellow Coloradans affected by this fire. Losing more that 1,000 homes in the dead of winter means several thousand people are hurting. They deserve our help. (To see what Gov. Jared Polis thinks you can do, go to www.colorado.gov/governor/news/6996-resources-coloradans-impacted-marshall-fire.)
Above all, we need to recognize that the threat of wildfire is real for all of us and everywhere. It is no longer something that happens to other people in other places.