Feeling the heat of wildfire | SummitDaily.com

Feeling the heat of wildfire

Whitney Childers

I’ve only experienced the intense heat of a wildfire twice in my lifetime – and that was enough.

As a journalist, you find yourself in the middle of the action, and sometimes in the middle of danger.

In 1995, a photographer and I went to cover a grassland fire in central Oklahoma. Central Oklahoma is known for three things – red clay dirt, tornadoes and grassland fires.

We somehow managed to find a backroad close to the fire and began shooting photos. With a reporter’s notepad in one hand and a handkerchief in the other, I tried to comprehend the enormity of the fire. In an instant, spruce trees lit up like matches and the wind only made the speed of the fire worse. It changed directions and headed our way.

To say it was an inferno is an understatement. After about three minutes witnessing the monster, we got the hell out of there. For a brief moment, I thought I might have smelled my singed hair – but that might have been fear playing tricks on me.

Bottom line? We were stupid and ignorant.

Then, in 1997, again I found myself covering a fire in central Oklahoma. But, this time I managed to weasel my way into the safety of the sheriff’s truck. We drove backroads, weaving our way through the immense fire, and telling people to evacuate.

At one point, the sheriff set aside his duties and I relinquished my camera and notepad and we went to work.

The grassland fire was about 50 feet away from an old farm house – someone’s livelihood. We each got axes and shovels and began digging a ditch, in hopes of stopping the fire. My back started stinging just from the heat, 50 yards away. Even the sound of the fire, though seeming to die down, gave me chills. Luckily, a wind came up and steered the blaze in a different direction, sparing the home.

I got a great story from the fire, but more importantly, a home was saved.

One fire was started by lightning and the other by an illegal campfire.

While less than 1 percent of Colorado is experiencing the tragedy and devastation of wildfire, it has taken center stage, dominating local conversations and media news coverage.

Monday, I received at least five phone calls from local residents offering concerns about the potential for fires in Summit County. And, we received many more letters to the editor of people outraged by careless fire activity – such as campfires and fireworks.

With more than 85,000 acres burning around Summit County, it’s no wonder we’re nervous.

Summit County commissioners Monday tightened the current ban on open fires and fireworks in the county. A smart move and one that hopefully will deter some people from making a careless mistake.

But, my skeptical side wonders if we aren’t preaching to the choir. What about the people who don’t read the newspaper, watch TV or listen to the radio? What about those who find nothing wrong with discarding a cigarette out the car window? Or those who insist on building a campfire in the worst of dry conditions?

I have to wonder if we are reaching those people. That’s why personal communication is so important. Talking about fire dangers with your neighbors and friends is at least one small step to decreasing the potential for a catastrophic fire in Summit County.

We can’t stop Mother Nature, but we can do our best to be aware of our surroundings and actions.

If not, we might find ourselves evacuating our homes and trying to think of what we need to take with us, if a wildfire comes roaring down the mountain.

What do you think about the state’s wildfires? Is Summit County in danger for fire? Send us a letter to the editor to wchilders@summitdaily.com

Whitney Childers is the editor of the Summit Daily News and may be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227.

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