CCDBR Executive Director David Aguillard was deployed to assist with the Catholic Charities USA and local agencies as they respond to the wildfires burning in Colorado. Read his blog to find out more.
"When the locusts arrive, I am leaving," said Jim Ball, whose wife had placed sandbags to divert runoff from their driveway, where it would then flow into their basement.
Jim is one of the thandful ones. His home remains intact while his neighbor's burned to the ground. The kindness of a neighbor may have saved Patricia and Pat O'Lear's home. Bill Brecht turned on a sprinkler between their homes that may have kept the flames from intensifying enough to jump into the scrub oak around their houses. The ground is charred, but still green grass grows where the sprinkler sprayed.
The kindness of people. While fire may be different than other disasters the Catholic Charities network has responded to, this one element remains the same. One resident arrived home to find someone, a firefighter, had fed and watered his chickens during his absense. The firefighter even left a note apologizing that one chicken died.
"You would think they would just fight the fire and then more on," said Karen. "But they care, too."
With the fire at near 100% containment, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado has shifted its work from serving food in shelters to assisting residents, police and troops
in the burned neighborhoods. Much work lies ahead, the full extent of which we don't yet know. The tourism industry, normally in its peak season, is experiencing a slowdown estimated between 30% to 40%, and some businesses estimating as high as 60%. Streets are empty that are normally bumper-to-bumper with tourists.
And Catholic Charities of Central Colorado is helping as the community's needs change--the typical shifting sands of the disaster response landscape. Requests for financial assistance are increasing. The kindness of neigbors and the Gospel Mission of Catholic Charities, two constants when communities are hit by disasters.
July 6, 2012: Along Garden of the Gods Rd. just west of Colorado Springs, the Gods must be angry. Very angry. Fires driven by hurricane force winds have obliterated homes, which literally went up in smoke. All that’s left where used to stand neighborhoods are twisted metal shells of appliances and a thin layer of ash.
Driving away, all I can think: Fire is evil. It seems to have intention and purpose, stalking and targeting its victims. Red tomatoes remain on a bush just inches from a home that is gone. Another home remains intact a few feet from one that was destroyed.
Fire taunts and tortures for days. Lona B., 68, at first prepared to leave her home voluntarily. Then was ordered to. Two days later, she was allowed back in for a short period to collect valuables. “We were certain it wasn’t coming here,” she said. Another two days pass, and again she returned, this time for 30 minutes. “Still we were telling each other we’ll be just fine,” she said.
That night, however, the wind shifted, intensified and the fire attacked. When she returned, Lona said, “it was horrible.” She was unprepared for what happened to her home.
The fire wrought a reality “far worse than the worst of my imagination.”
July 4, 2012: In South Louisiana, we’ve responded to hurricanes, oil spills, floods, water and wind. Never fire. I wasn’t sure what to expect when Catholic Charities USA asked me to help Catholic Charities of Central Colorado respond to the Waldo Canyon Fire, the most destructive in Colorado’s history. But on a drive just west of the city, it’s readily apparent: this is a different kind of disaster. The flames seemed to choose their targets. A green oasis in the middle of a mountain side burned black. In one community, 346 homes destroyed. None in the next. Firefighters encircle the fire and wage war, combat it from the ground, assault it from the air, and … eventually, contain it. Imagine trying to turn back Gustav? Redirect Katrina?
Another difference. In a Hurricane we “hunker down.” If you’re in the possible path of fire, you run. Thirty-two thousand people fled their homes about one week ago, and Catholic Charities of Central Colorado prepared meals for some of them in four shelters. As of today, nearly all have been allowed to return, and the one remaining shelter will close on Friday, July 6. But information is still hard to come by. Neighborhoods may be re-entered, but in what condition are the homes? How many are smoked damaged, possibly unlivable? We don’t yet know.
One thing we do know, however, and it’s the same as we’ve seen repeatedly (unfortunately) in south Louisiana. People are generous, and tragedy can bring out the best in our human nature. Signs offering free services to evacuees spill off bulletin boards and onto the walls outside the shelters.
Over 200 new volunteers have offered to help the Catholic Charities agency here.
In the coming days, we should be able to assess the damage and the scope of recovery efforts needed. In the meantime, on this July 4th, in this part of the country, there will be no fireworks.