As late as Tuesday afternoon, the optimism that typically surrounds us in Colorado Springs was holding up fine against those ominous flames and smoke looming in the mountains west of the city.
We would get through this. The firefighting crews would win. There would be damage in the Pike National Forest, and tourism might endure a short-term setback. But someday soon all would be well again, life would return to normal and we would put the Waldo Canyon fire behind us.
Then, in the course of a few horrific hours, all that changed.
Fanned by winds from thunderstorms further west, the fire suddenly leaped out of the Front Range. It began devouring homes by the dozens in northwest Colorado Springs, and not even the efforts of 800-plus highly trained firefighters could stop its merciless attack.
The result is a true disaster, unparalleled in the city’s history. It won’t need a name (many will soon forget the Waldo Canyon part), probably just The Fire. Henceforth, so many aspects of our lives will relate to before or after this fire. It almost certainly will change our sensitivities and even our way of thinking: our philosophy about pushing major development into potentially dangerous areas, our awareness for how drought conditions can set the stage for nightmares, and our calm assumptions about always being able to stop a fire before it becomes a terrifying monster.
We won’t be able to recover quickly from this one. Our city still has so much going for it, including that optimism. But we can’t assume that all will be well again as soon as The Fire is extinguished.
It’s true that times such as these bring out the best in people, and we’ve seen that all around us. We’re all suffering through this together, and the outpourings of help and donations have been remarkable.
But it has to be more than that. This unity, pulling closer together in our anguish, can’t be allowed to slip away. We will face new troubles, new issues, new questions, in the aftermath of The Fire, and we’re not talking politics here. We’re talking everything from our economy to our image (both of which will need extensive, proactive attention now), and everything in between.
As soon as it makes sense to do so, Mayor Steve Bach must pull together a special nonpartisan group of people from across the local spectrum — young and old, leaders and followers, insiders and outsiders. That group would have one task: to identify, clearly define and prioritize, the biggest problems created by The Fire.
No solutions will come quickly. We know that. But we cannot hold off on assessing the situation, determining how The Fire might (or might not) change every detail in Colorado Springs’ future plans, and setting a new course.
Yes, this is a turning point. But it doesn’t have to go down as the city never being the same after this. Let’s remember that as we turn the page and move forward again.