My home town Colorado Springs, Colorado is on fire. The beast known as the Waldo Canyon fire took three days to get here, but get here it did. Yesterday afternoon I stood in front of my house and watched as this beast clawed its way over a mountain ridge and then charged down the foothills and in to virgin territory.
It looked like a volcanic eruption the colors were intense black and brilliant orange, a true hell storm. I have seen many fires in many forms over my 30 year career, but never have I seen anything like this.
The sky on the entire southern horizon was blotted out with this surreal sci-fi effect. James Cameron himself couldn’t have created this illusion, but it was no illusion, it was real.
As the beast was inhaling one huge deep breath to feed itself the winds gusted to 65 miles per hour. You see as a plumb dominated fire takes a breath it sucks in all the available air around it the air rushes in at the base fans the flames and rushes upwards into the sky.
I watched as the beautiful blond hair of the tops of my daughters’ heads swung quickly to the left and the dust around us kicked up into their wide eyes.
“Is it gonna get us daddy?” they asked.
“No it isn’t going to get us.” I answered.
The terror on their faces although real was nowhere close to the real terror I knew was on the faces of many of my friends as they were fleeing for their lives. My friends were posting on facebook and the images they posted could have been taken by Satan himself.
I know the men and women fighting this fire, they are friends and colleagues and I know how many of them lived in the very neighborhood they were fighting the beast in. Their homes were burning right before their very eyes.
I can’t imagine watching your home own burn and as a firefighter being powerless to do anything about it. The firefighters had been deployed in mass into the threatened neighborhood, they were there at the ready and then the beast exploded.
A fire wall it is called. Imagine a wall of fire 100 feet high rushing directly at you at a speed of 65 miles per hour. The fire travels at the speed of the wind. The commander, a friend of mine I have known since the recruit academy, called for a bug out. In other words get the hell out as fast as you can. Something that goes contrary to ever instinct a firefighter has.
When we see the beast we are filled desire to kill it. We don’t run, we fight. But with a fire like this there is no sense in sacrificing our lives for a losing cause. So we regroup in a safe place away from the fire and wait. The flame wall will pass quickly and that is when we strike.
We slip around behind the beast and go right back in, and that is what they did. I listened to my old friends on a scanner; I knew the voices for I had heard them over the radios for many years.
I could hear the stress and the calmness in their voices all at the same time. I know these men and women and know the subtle little tells they emit. I read the coded language they use and I knew they were in the shit.
I heard one company commanded by a friend describe driving down a street with every home on both sides of the road on fire 40 homes they said, and I knew many of them were looking at their very own homes. Mind boggling.
I heard another voice my old Chief a man I know well a man that saved my butt on many occasions, and I heard him give a command. He told a strike force that they had to hold their position, that they could not let the fire pass. And I heard the dedication in the return communication.
“Holding the line Chief, roger that.”
You see when this man tells you to do it and tells you can do it, then you know you can do it and they did, the fire did not pass.
The Colorado Springs fire department is one of the very best departments in America set up to fight this kind of fire and they were powerless at that moment.
They will rally and they will beat this thing and they will never give up. These men and women are getting a life time worth of fire fighting experience in a matter of hours. They will talk about this for the rest of their lives and they will never fear the beast again. For they have seen it at its full fury and they didn’t flinch.
Over my career a good working fire in a single family residence was a pretty big deal, very exciting stuff to jump a good worker and go to work. I imagine for the rest of their careers now, a single family residence on fire will be much like a camp fire.
Colorado Springs will survive, we are a great community and strong Americans and we will come back. Pray for us and pray for our firefighters as they fight for their community and for themselves.