Like people up and down the Rocky Mountain region in the western United States, I have watched as area after area exploded with wildfire.
Sixty miles south of Laramie, the mountains just outside of Ft. Collins had a huge blaze; we got the smoke up here in Laramie. We waited and watched with them, via the media, as people were evacuated and hoped their homes survived. We watched firefighters flood the area, and air tankers and helicopters drop water and slurry on the flames.
Then the mountains by Colorado Springs burst into flame, and the fire roared down into the subdivisions on the periphery of town, burning scores of houses as people watched, helpless. Again, the firefighters stepped into the heat and the flames and halted the fiery monster.
Closer to home, fire raged at the far northern end of Albany County, the county Laramie is in, but while the fire consumed quite a few acres, the rugged area doesn’t hold a large population. It did take some homes, but not as many, and the rough terrain made it hard to fight the fire.
We watched, here in Laramie, as populations thanked the firefighters who saved lives, homes, and properties, and we were thankful along with them.
And we also watched with fear in our eyes, because the winter was warm and dry, the summer has been hot and dry, and the mountains here are full of dead timber – conifers killed by pine beetles during the last few years – fuel for any fire. It was only a matter of time before Mother Nature decided to clean house. (Or some thoughtless idiot started a blaze – sadly, that is always a possibility.)
Then last week, the fire we had been dreading burst into being – the Squirrel Creek Fire in the Snowy Range of the Medicine Bow Mountains. And the firefighters came to help us.
Laramie itself is not in the path of the fire; 30 miles of grassland and sagebrush lie between the mountains and us, but when the total population of your county is in the 30,000’s, everyone knows everyone, and it’s like your next-door neighbors getting burned out. The ranches, cabins and tiny communities of Fox Park, Woods Landing and Albany are filled with people who work in Laramie, or send their kids to school in Laramie, who shop in Laramie, and have friends in Laramie. They are as much a part of us as if they lived in town. And out here, we step in and help when help is needed.
But it is incredible to see the response the rest of the world has had to our fire. As in Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs, firefighters from across the US have come into our town to fight the fire. Hot Shot teams, helicopters, an incident commander on the national level with much experience under his belt, all have responded to help us.
And this is humbling.
It’s humbling to think that people will come in and help, come from all over to do this life-threatening, miserably hot work to help our community.
This year, on the fourth of July, we don’t have fireworks here. The fire in the mountains is more than enough. But we have a reminder of the meaning of living in the USA, the way it is supposed to be.
E Pluribus Unum – From many, one. Everyone coming together from all over to help – as one.