Like newborns, wildfires are named before their accomplishments unfold. Thus the inferno that is consuming parts of western Colorado Springs will forever be known as the Waldo Canyon Fire.
That label alone was enough to grab my attention a few days ago, because Waldo Canyon's seven-mile loop trail is where Laura and I fell in love with hiking. When we decided to spend every Saturday of the summer of 2006 walking our world, we inaugurated the campaign there. I vividly remember taking the first steps up a wooden stairway at the trailhead.
We've never stopped walking, and someday I hope we'll return to where we got our start. But it won't be the same.
The Waldo Canyon Fire won't be remembered for devastating a premier
hiking trail - it's already gone too far for that. First it shot a fiery
finger to the northwest, threatening small communities. On Tuesday, it
exploded southeastward toward the city that sits 6,035 feet high,
beneath 14,114-foot-high Pikes Peak.
My former colleagues who still work at the Colorado Springs Gazette
are reporting on and photographing a disaster that could reach epic
proportions. I can't stop checking their Facebook postings.
"I'm about to end the longest night of my journalism career and head
to a friend's house to reunite with my evacuated family," posted
reporter and weekend editor Tom Roeder on Wednesday morning. "God, I
hope today is a better day."
Tom was my military reporter at the Gazette. He's put in long stints
embedded with Fort Carson troops in Iraq. When Laura and I were
stranded atop Pikes Peak on our last hike in the summer of '06, he came
to our rescue.
"This will probably go down as the worst day in Colorado Springs
history," posted photographer Jerilee Bennett late Tuesday. "What a
horrible scene today to watch so many people's homes burn. Too sad for
any more words."
Jerilee took my stepdaughter Melissa's senior pictures in 2006. When
Laura and I moved to the coast in 2008, Melissa stayed behind with her
husband-to-be. Now they have a 1-year-old son and a cat and a puppy ...
and a home in western Springs. Tuesday night, they were packing up their
indispensable stuff, even though the front lines of this war were still
several miles away.
That this area is especially prone to wildfires is an understatement.
Officials have long feared a nightmare scenario in which flames would
race down the foothills and into the developed but oh-so-dry flatlands
where hundreds of thousands of people live and work.
Suburbia is at risk here, not fancy homes built high in the wooded hills - those places are already burning.
Colorado Springs had its hottest day in recorded history this week,
and there was little relief in the forecast - dry, warm, windy.
Maybe the nightmare scenario won't unfold. Maybe the firefighters
attacking the enemy from the ground and the air will prevail. God knows
What we do know is that disasters are occurring in Colorado, and one of them is named Waldo Canyon.
Back in our Rocky Mountain days, Laura and I hiked its trail several
times because of the diversity of experiences contained in a single
trek: Numerous crossings of gurgling mountain streams, a climb into hill
country reminiscent of "The Sound of Music," grand views of Pikes Peak
clad in white snow or sometimes bare gray, and finally a descent into
the kind of red-rock fairyland that Colorado specializes in.
Thankfully, I can't imagine what it looks like now.