Wildfires are environmentally devastating.  Sometimes, they also steal homes and livelihoods. They are a part of Colorado living.

Click on this link to see a photo of a wildfire breaking out in Glenwood Canyon: White Water Rafting, LLC- Photo

Feeling Helpless

I grew up in Glenwood Springs — a small mountain town four hours away on the West Slope, known for its hot springs and abundant recreational opportunities.  We return almost monthly to enjoy the area and spend time with family.

Today, I live in Colorado Springs and am feeling a world away. Helpless.

As we speak, a fire is raging near my hometown. But not just any fire, the Grizzly Creek Fire, aptly named for the drainage in Glenwood Canyon where the blaze started.

Hiking Grizzly Creek with my son.

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Many people who live in Colorado come here for its incredible outdoor beauty.  Certain parts of the state become “ours” and a love for these areas make a home deep in our hearts. Glenwood Canyon has always been one of those places for me.

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My family one week ago biking from Grizzly Creek back to Glenwood.

Glenwood Canyon is one of the most incredibly beautiful landmarks in Colorado. A winding wonder of water, trees and rocks. Canyon walls 1000 feet tall tell a geologic story. The Colorado River rages or roams its length depending on the time of year. A scenic path by any standard that can be enjoyed on foot, bike, kayak, raft or tube. By train, by car or even by helicopter. It is accessible to all in so many ways. A blessing. But today, its curse.

Environmental Stewards

2020 has been shaping up to be one of our top 5 worst drought years on record. The parched earth has been aching for rain, pleading with unanswered prayers.

As stewards of the land, we should all know to be vigilant about wildfires. Cautious to the extreme. In recent years, fires in Colorado have been started by errant bullets, burned letters by annoyed lovers, construction crews, lightning, coal seams and cigarettes just to name a few.

Both the communities of Glenwood Springs and Colorado Springs as well as countless others in Colorado have already experienced the devastating effects of recklessness resulting in wildfires in the arid West. Sometimes, fires are a fact of life. A spark from a bolt of lightning combined with dry conditions and pure bad luck.

But most often, they are the result of humans.

So as my mother started sending me texts with pictures of the mushroom-cloud-like plume of smoke towering above the house, my heart sank.

Wildfires Like This

Looking into it, I fear the blaze is human-caused. The fire is still under investigation, but no lightning was reported. It is far more likely that it’s the result of a motorist in the canyon. Maybe someone who flicked a cigarette out the window. This thought causes anger to sear in me — to think that people can be so careless. Whether this fire started this way or not, others have. I have often driven behind cars at night and seen the tell tale red spark of ash carelessly flicked out the window, my fury raging. This practice has to end. Like in this case, the result could be thousands of years of formations, beauty and nature, literally up in smoke.

Even though there are only a few homes currently in the fire’s path, this fire is a huge loss — environmentally and from an infrastructure perspective.  Amazing hiking areas, including the famed Hanging Lake will never be the same. As is often the case for small mountain communities, Glenwood Springs derives its water supply from these basins. Interstate 70 is a major artery to the west that will struggle for decades with rock and mud slides as a result of this. Power lines and the one of the oldest, most historic hydro power plants (The Shoshone Power Plant) sit at the heart of this fire. If the plant is lost, the flow regime of the Colorado River is at risk. 

The railroad route through this area is another needed avenue for people and commerce.  People’s homes and livelihoods are at stake, as are the lives of firefighters. In Glenwood, this weighs heavy on our hearts after the 1994 Storm King fire took the lives of 14 firefighters. Finally, millions of dollars of resources are spent fighting these fires each year.

Follow the Rules

Colorado is an amazing state, with endless outdoor recreational opportunities. But responsible recreation is required. Be overly aware. Please follow the rules, obey the signs. Whether it is to not feed our wildlife or to respect local fire bans, we all need to do our part. Especially, do not flick cigarettes out of car windows!

Once these treasures are gone, there is no getting them back — at least in our lifetime.

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Sometimes when these things happen to other people, in other parts of the state, it is easy to think it can’t happen here. Or if it’s been 8 years since the last time you personally had to witness or participate in the chaos of evacuating a fire (or maybe you’re new here and didn’t experience Waldo Canyon or Black Forest), that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.

Every year, we need to think about being prepared for wildfires and act diligently to prevent them. Check out Jenny’s article about her experience during the Waldo Canyon Fire and take the steps needed to prepare. We live in a Wildland-Urban interface and diligence to this end is a required condition of residency.

And in the meantime, say a prayer for our firefighters and crews. This season, they are going to need it.

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Rachel is a native Coloradoan, though originally from the Western Slope. She followed her husband Chris to his hometown of Colorado Springs after having met in engineering school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. Together they have four beautiful children, Tommy (2011), Tazzy (2014), Zach (2015) and Zinny (2018). Having a young and active family keeps Rachel on her toes trying to find ways to keep the ship sailing while still meeting all the demands of motherhood. Though Rachel loves her most important role as Mommy most, she also works full time outside the home as a Water Resources Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. This role helps keep her life centered, bouncing from detailed and complex discussions relating to Colorado Water Law with her husband ( a mechanical engineer) to daycare and preschool drop off and pick up schedules, while being constantly interrupted by the equally complex musings of her 4 year.