On December 30, 2021 Colorado had unprecedented wind speeds of 100+ mph. We’ve also had a year of higher-than-average temperatures and lower-than-average precipitation.
This all conspired to create the perfect conditions for something we’ve never seen here before—winter wildfires.
A downed power line started a fire that swept through the towns of Superior and Louisville, sped along by those winds. It was reported that fire traveled the length of two football fields in ten seconds.
Wildfire isn’t uncommon here, but usually it occurs on forest service land, not in the middle of urban subdivisions.
The Marshall fire area is far from where I live, but it’s an area I’ve visited a couple of times in the last six months or so. You might have seen when I wrote about watching a Model Yacht Regatta at Harper Lake during the summer, or the Curling Championships in November.
I saw both locations on the news last night as crews staked out their live shots.
Colorado has seen several devastating fires destroying many homes over the last decade. The ones closest and most memorable to me were Waldo Canyon in June 2012, Black Forest in June 2013, and now this Marshall fire.
I live in a suburban area. We have our share of open space and large wooded lots, but I’ve always felt safe from wildfires. The homes in Waldo Canyon were nestled up against the foothills below Pikes Peak. Black Forest is a semi-rural area. Completely different terrain.
But Superior and Louisville are suburban areas. They have their share of open space and large wooded lots, but the residents, I suspect, have always felt safe from wildfires.
I have friends who lost homes in the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires, and I’m holding my breath to hear about people I know in the path of yesterday’s Marshall fire. I worry about people being traumatized anew, reliving their nightmares from those times, dealing with the PTSD it must create.
But why do I have that same anxious sense of PTSD? I’ve never been in a fire. I’ve never lost anything to a fire, except perhaps a poorly skewered marshmallow. So why?
I think I’m having a reaction to all those times where I’ve felt completely powerless—or at least worried about being completely powerless—something I expect we all have in common with those who have suffered a shocking and catastrophic loss like this.
It’s not a feeling I like.
What I do like is having a plan.
So instead of feeling powerless and reactive, I wanted to do something that feels powerful and proactive. I can’t prevent historic winds or downed power lines.
But I can make a list. And a plan.
I have a new folder in my file cabinet labeled “In Case of Fire.” In that file are copies of our passports, driver’s licenses, vaccination cards, passwords, phone numbers, insurance information, attorney’s information, and such.
Also in that file is a plan. A written list of things to pack. The list is in order, most important to least important, and I’ll work my way through it for however much time I’m allowed before I must evacuate.
I’ve had many friends who have talked about being forced to evacuate ahead of a fire. Sometimes you only have time to grab your people and pets, sometimes you have longer. Regardless, your mind goes blank. The entire idea of evacuation is surreal. One friend picked up a perfectly ripe tomato newly harvested from their garden to take, but forgot their daily medication. Another friend reported just standing in the living room, making slow circles, overwhelmed by the situation until time ran out.
When the smoke clears over the next few days, I will see what I can do to help my fellow Coloradoans rebuild their lives, just like I did after the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. It won’t be much in the face of such overwhelming heartbreak and destruction, but it will be a plan.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
The only thing that will make me feel better is to do both.
In case of fire, I’ll wish like hell, while pulling out my plan.
Here’s my list. I’ll be adding to it and tweaking it, but feel free to copy and paste and use it as the basis for your list. I’ll pick a date—probably December 30—and every year pull out that file and review my list. I will also walk through my house every year making a video of the contents of each room and uploading it somewhere safe, just in case I ever need to make an insurance claim.
In Case of Fire—do these things in order
- Open garage door in case of a power outage to make it easier to get out
- Use laundry baskets or suitcases to gather these items—
- “in case of fire” folder
- safe deposit box key
- computers/cords/external hard drives/computer case
- bills to pay/checkbook
- dog bowls/food/treats/medications/leash/dog bed
- [I listed the projects I’m working on and their location]
- [I went through my file cabinet and alphabetically listed the files to pull out, from each drawer]
- Wills/estate binder
- clothes/shoes/socks/coat/sweats/jammies/favorite scarves/Dad’s tie/sweaters/boots
- [I walked from room to room, listing keepsakes I couldn’t replace and wanted to keep, putting them in order of most to least important]
What have I forgotten?