Our turn in the fire…


Our Franktown (Colorado) community has dodged a bullet — a cliched turn of phrase, but I’m sure that many of the homeowners out here to the north and east of the village center truly feel that way.  The “Burning Tree Fire” (how appropriate the name) of March 24th, 2011 seems now to be largely in the mop-up phase, with no damage to or loss of property (homes, barns), and no injuries or loss of life (people or animals).  As I look to the northwest from my home in the Bannockburn neighborhood this morning, I see no smoke clouds or even wisps which would indicate the acreage which burned yesterday.

But of course, it ain’t over ’til it’s over… With the winds continuing today, flare-ups are possible, if unlikely.

Main order of business: to say “Thank you” to all of the EMT folks, firemen and women, deputies of the Douglas and Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Offices, and all of their support teams, who successfully fought and contained this fire yesterday and through last night.  I understand that fire crews from all over Douglas County and the area pitched in on this one.  Sure, they were “just doing their job,” but when homes, property, safety and possibly even lives are on the line, it’s important for those of us affected to honestly acknowledge their efforts and our debt to them.  This is why we pay taxes — and glad of it for this kind of service, for it’s something — fighting a major fire — that none of us could do by ourselves.  It’s why we form, and are, communities.  So, to all the firefighters, pilots (especially that darn persistent chopper pilot!), cops and support folks:  Thank you for your service to our community and for protecting our homes!

I’ll be interested to hear what the investigators determine to be the cause of this fire.  Personally, my bet (and it’s just a guess, no special information) is that this one was human-caused… whether accidental or purposely set, many such fires along the Front Range are caused by a person (or persons) who either don’t understand the potential for damage that they’ll wreak, or — more scary — do understand that damage potential and do it anyway, maliciously.  Since there was neither lightning strike nor magma eruption just north of the Burning Tree neighborhood around 1:00pm yesterday, somebody must have screwed up, touched it off by mistake or intent.  Whichever, I hope that the authorities catch ’em.  Better yet, when they do, turn ’em over to the community (ha!).

We’re just lucky that all that burned was acreage, and largely grassland and open space at that.  From what I’ve seen so far (and my perceptions could change with updates), no trees burned significantly, and no structures or infrastructure (fences, etc.) were burned or badly damaged.  And no homes.  Really fortunate.

On the flip-side of this, though, I’m also pretty sure that we’ll hear a lot of folks bemoaning “all the damage to the ecology.”  Here, I’d caution the politically correct fears about this (and other similar) fires.  A few things come to mind:

  1. Nature itself does not abhor fire — rather, our natural  ecosystems are largely tolerant of fire, and regular fires tend to “tidy up” forests and grasslands.  When it occurs naturally, and frequently enough, in an ecosystem, fire is a beneficial process which cleans out the overburden of dead biomass (leaves, pine needles, dead grass, branches and twigs, weeds and other burnable stuff), typically producing a clean, open forest or a healthy, robust prairie.  There’s excellent evidence that, in pre-Columbian times, native Americans encouraged (or at least certainly didn’t attempt to stop or control) regular fires in both forests and prairies — or at least they got out of its way when it occurred naturally.
  2. Where and when modern communities form, we want to control and prevent fires.  The result is a build-up of detritus — that dead biomass overburden — which, if and when it ever gets going, burns very hot and damages much.  This pretty much describes our Franktown neighborhoods (and I’m sure many other Colorado communities); I have to admit that my own 5 acre plot is full of dead leaves, needles and branches that, had yesterday’s fire reached my property, would have burned fast and possibly deadly.  Our county regulations restrict us from safely burning all of this biomass to dispose of it, and there’s really no other good options to haul it somewhere else, so, for most of us, there it sits… waiting for a wildfire to “take care of it” in the worst possible way.  Honestly, as a community, we need better options.  I doubt if most of us are just simply “too lazy” — we just don’t have the positive options to cope with it.  Any ideas, anyone? I guess I’ll be out this weekend making a large pile out of the pine needles and junk that’s accumulated around my house… Got a real wake-up call yesterday, eh?
  3. Finally, I expect to hear a bunch of folks “being concerned” about all the blackened acres (over 1,600A) that this fire burned.  How terrible, right?  Nope.  Newsflash:  All of that grassland that burned will come back greener, and healthier, than before, likely by May or so, and especially with any spring rains.  With the good fortune of no damages to people, critters or property, the fire was likely actually good for the grassland that it burned.  Stay tuned… watch what happens.
  4. Oh, and one more thing:  We’ll also likely hear from folks who “are concerned” about the amount of smoke and particulate pollution caused by the fire.  Please, let’s be very clear here:  carbon, in its various forms as carbon dioxide and ash compounds, is not a pollutant.  Carbon is simply a chemical element, atomic number 6 on the periodic chart, and is the primary building block of life via organic chemistry.  I’m not going to get into the great CO2/global warming political debate here, and I’m sorry that some folks up north had itchy eyes from the smoke, but please, let’s not get carried away again with making yesterday’s fire into “another tragic pollution incident.”

I’m just glad everyone’s okay, and home safely again after the evacuations.  I’m proud of our community and neighborhoods — folks didn’t panic, really pulled together, helped each other out wherever they could.  Douglas County’s Reverse-911 system worked well, almost annoyingly too persistent, as automated systems can be.  But I’m most proud of and grateful to our EMT folks for what they did, and what they’ll stand ready to do for us in the future.

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