“A firestorm of epic proportions.”
So spoke the Fire Chief of Colorado Springs, a man who has seen many fires in his career. What started as a relatively small smoke spiral at noon on a Saturday in a popular hiking spot in the foothills west of town, quickly expanded to a 3500 acre blaze moving first south, then west. 3 days in, everything changed.
On Tuesday, June 26th, the highest-ever recorded temperature in Colorado history, combined with 2 years of drought, caused a growing conflagration driving in from the forest on the west-side foothills of the city. Suddenly a rainless thunderstorm blew in from the west at 65 miles per hour. The perfect storm of conditions brought about Colorado Springs’ worst nightmare. The blaze exploded over the ridge, burning downhill and eastward, through canyons leading into even more parched land, grass and forests– shared with some of the most scenic neighborhoods in the city. It fast became the most destructive fire in Colorado history.
Fire commanders in the middle of their afternoon media briefing turned to look at the unfolding scene. The stunned look of disbelief in their eyes said everything the public feared: the unimaginable was happening. Walls of flames and exploding trees rolled downhill into the city. Immediately 2 neighborhoods in its path were put on mandatory evacuation. One of those, Peregrine, is where my family and I lived for 6 years.
32,000 people suddenly had their lives turned entirely upside down. Cars, vans, pickups and trailers formed a gridlock caravan leaving their homes, fleeing the flames they could see in their rear-view mirrors. It took a terror-stricken three hours for some to drive the three miles to escape to the interstate. Many of those folks are friends and former neighbors we contacted by text or phone calls. The sound of stunned horror and disbelief in their voices was visceral. We agonized for them; how easily that could have been my family and me.
Within those three hours, homes in the path of the blaze caught fire. Exploding trees threw ash and embers at manicured landscapes and onto the roofs of well-maintained houses, which themselves began exploding into an inferno that eventually took two lives, destroyed 18,000 acres, 346 homes, and damaged hundreds more. One of Colorado Springs’ most attractive communities, Mountain Shadows, was turned into a scene looking more like a nuclear holocaust. The national fire commander on the scene, with nearly 30 years of wildfire-fighting experience, pointed to a map showing the swirling footprint of the fire and said, “I’ve been fighting fires for a long time. I’ve never seen fire behavior like this before.”
This stunning video shows the awful nature of this fire in time lapse photography. When you can, watch it at least through the perfect-storm turn of events on Tuesday afternoon and evening (marks 6:40-8:00). Given this perspective, it’s a miracle that there was not more damage. It’s a testament to the round-the-clock effort of the firefighters. Still, it will take many years to restore that community into a liveable and hopefully safer one.
Modern mankind likes to think it has control over nature. The hydro-electric dams, nuclear power plants, skyscrapers and space travel of the past century have given us in the developed world in particular, a sense of power, invincibility and control beyond reality. The truth is becoming more evident. In just the past year, we have seen earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns and wildfires that have individually set records for destruction, and collectively impact the earth like nothing before experienced. In the U.S. alone 2011 broke records for the most billion dollar weather disasters ever: 14.
Man vs. Wild is a popular cable show that pits a tough human with the best name ever, Bear Grylls, against some of the toughest challenges nature can throw at him in a test of survival. His ingenuity and creativity in survival makes for entertaining TV. We cheer him on; at least I do. But let’s not fool ourselves. Place him, or any of us, in front of a 50 foot high tsunami traveling at 90 miles per hour, and we’re gone. Place him in a concrete hotel crumbling under the shock waves of a 7.5 earthquake, and he’s buried alive. Place him the the path of a raging inferno of flames roaring downhill in the midst of dry tinder wood, and he’s toast.
All of Creation groans under the impact of the Fall (Ro. 8:21, 22) – and as a result horrific tragedies beyond belief happen to mankind. All the more, it seems, with each passing year. Yet Creation also still reflects the power of its Creator. God rules the waves; He has dominion over the skies; He speaks and the mountains obey. In the midst of overwhelming tragedy and destruction at the hands of nature, God’s power and even his majesty are revealed.
In my next post I’ll share some thoughts about how we can respond when He doesn’t intervene as often as we hope He would. Until then…
Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to him who rides across the highest heavens, the ancient heavens,
who thunders with mighty voice.
Proclaim the power of God,
whose majesty is over Israel,
whose power is in the heavens.
You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary;
the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.
Praise be to God! (Ps. 68:32-35)
Lord, have mercy on us all.
(Photos courtesy of Vance Brown and Facebook.)
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, their daughter Gemma and son Calvin. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.