fire, part i (alternatively titled: wtf)

I’ve been writing this post in my head since Thursday, December 30th, 2021. When I feel overwhelmed, my tendency is to shut down or distract myself with frivolous things — anything to take me out of what I’m feeling. That never goes well. And lately, overwhelm is fading, in favor of annoyance — why do I feel this? Why doesn’t the rest of the world feel it with me? The answers to those questions are centered on perspective. So here is my perspective, from where I sit, at the house that miraculously didn’t burn to the ground when the Marshall and Middle Fork fires swept Superior, Louisville (our town), and parts of unincorporated Boulder county.

The following four photos show a neighborhood behind our Recreation & Senior Center entirely burned by the fires. You can see outlines of cars (what’s left of the metal), parts of walls (from what used to be homes), and a whole lot of nothing when there used to be something.

There’s no moral or main takeaway here, at least none that I see yet. What I hope to share here are the unfiltered, turbulent thoughts that have been swirling in my head (because getting them out in this way is actually productive, versus getting out by avoiding the topic altogether). Grief meets “WTF” meets compassion for my neighbors meets “what the hell do we do now?”

It feels strange to write this type of post on what I wanted to be a “professional blog.” But I’ve never bought into 100% separating the personal from the professional, anyway, and I’m here to advocate for a “why not both” approach. Let’s go.

Thursday, December 30th, 1:35 PM EST

John and I were in Pennsylvania at his brother’s house, biding time until our booster shot appointment. I was mindlessly scrolling on my phone, probably looking at Korean skincare websites for some post-holiday shopping, when I received a series of texts from our friend Aric (who lives in Broomfield, CO, about 20 minutes from our home in Louisville). It seemed like the fire was close but still far away enough for us not to worry.

Screenshot of text message conversation. 
Aric: Did you guys hear about the fire? Are you in CO or PA? 
Me: I didn't but John did - which one? Still in PA
Aric: I just heard Superior and Louisville got an evacuation order, I think it started west of Superior. Are your pets at home??
The first I heard about the fire (a personal text message, sent 1:35 PM EST)
Screenshot of text message:
Me: Thanks! Just checked our FB group and it seems ok, we are west not east.
Image in screenshot is text from a Facebook group, that reads 'all Superior is under has spread to northwest area of Superior. All residents west of McCaslin Boulevard have been evacuated as well as residents east of McCaslin and north of Discovery Parkway. Further evacuations may be necessary. Boulder County emergency staff will continue to contact residents if further evacuations become necessary."
False hope: thinking our neighborhood was safe, based on fire direction.

That sense of some calm (“we’re safe, we’re far”) didn’t last long. By now, you can read tons of online news reports about the weather and its severity — winds gusting 80 to 100 miles per hour, a dark gray cloud of smoke engulfing Boulder County, and later, a “firestorm” that sent flying embers across the landscape. When we finally made it home on Sunday, January 3rd, John would find some of those flying embers in our backyard. I’m still finding scraps of paper, and could probably piece together a chapter of a book if I wanted to.

But that’s jumping too far ahead. It’s still December 30th, filled with uncertainty. My eyes are glued to the private Facebook group for our zip code (encompassing Superior and Louisville). I’m learning about places like the Boulder OEM. And I’m paralyzed, mentally, thinking about our cats, stuck in our home on Owl Drive. Frantically texting our cat sitter, and the neighbor who has a spare key. Communication is sparse, but frantic when it comes. For hours I sit, and text, and read Facebook.

John and I consider driving back to Colorado early the next day (December 31st). We feel stuck, being 24 hours’ (give or take) driving distance from our home and two cats. Thinking about those uncertain hours, now, I feel a strange sense of guilty gratitude. It would’ve been terrifying to be at home, running to get those cats (and dog) into their crates and into our car for evacuation. We’d probably delay, wondering what on earth to pack, wondering if our house was going to burn down. We weren’t there, and so: we sat, and waited for news.

By the end of the night, the 80-100 mph wind gusts finally stopped. Firefighters in our neighborhood — one street behind us — managed to save a few townhomes. Most of them didn’t make it, though. We knew none of this on December 30th; we just knew (from vague texts with neighbors) that our street “seems okay.” And so we slept.

December 31st will come in Part II. Soon-ish. I’m working on this after work (where I work in front of multiple screens), and can’t (won’t) commit to a “writing schedule” when I’m already behind on 47 other things. But it’ll come, and I hope you stick around to read it.

One response to “fire, part i (alternatively titled: wtf)”

  1. Every summer, when the possibility of fire is high, most families are prepared with (boxes or suitcases) all that is essential for survival elsewhere and also precious mementos like photo albums, documents (passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate et al). All that needs to be done, is to load the car with family and pets.
    I feel for you – you must have felt helpless, frustrated and vulnerable at being so far from home. Glad it turned out okay.


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