Let's bury the fire memories, out of respect for victims 

Between the Lines

Surely you've seen or read the many stories during the past month on local TV or in the daily newspaper. There's nothing like another anniversary of a tragic event, complete with stunning photos and video, to bolster a dull news agenda.

In this case, it was the five-year anniversary of the Waldo Canyon Fire. The disaster struck in the last week of June 2012, and the firefighting effort continued into July before the region finally could begin the slow process of moving on and dealing with the damage of 347 destroyed homes and two lives lost.

Every summer since then, we've endured new versions of local media recycling the fire memories. At the five-year juncture, the frenzy has returned with more energy. It's natural for media to relive such moments on an anniversary, but in this case curious people have both their own memories and an appetite for others' stories.

Anyone who was living west of Interstate 25, from Old Colorado City to Manitou Springs and up Ute Pass, or northward to the Air Force Academy, has plenty of personal memories from the experience. We'll never forget that fateful Tuesday, June 26, when a sudden windstorm propelled the blaze off the Front Range and into Mountain Shadows.

The first impulse was to dig back once again into what we saw, how we felt and how the fire affected us. This time, though, something told me to take a different view — and perhaps be more sensitive.

Last week, I encountered a longtime friend who lost her Mountain Shadows home to the fire. As director of public affairs for Kaiser Permanente in Southern Colorado, C.J. Moore often interacts with the local community. So I asked how she felt about the latest anniversary stories, and her reaction was emphatic.

"Enough! I think it should stop!" Moore said. "We don't have to continue reliving the whole thing, year after year."

She talked about how she had gotten over the emotional pain of losing her home and then rebuilding on the same property. But she talked of knowing others who are as traumatized now as they were in 2012. One victim, she said, still cries at the mere mention of the fire.

It's our own version of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, affecting many who lost their homes five years ago or even knew others who went through that living hell.

It's the same for the Black Forest Fire of 2013, which destroyed 489 homes and also killed two people. And we're not helping, in the media or everyday life, by repeatedly picking at the same scab each summer and reopening the PTSD wounds.

Others have contributed to the problem, even with the best of intentions. Last week, actually on June 26, hundreds gathered at a Mountain Shadows park to recognize the five-year anniversary. But even though the focus was on how the neighborhood and its residents have recovered, that didn't make everyone feel better.

Terry Rector, a Colorado Springs native and attorney, lost his house and then represented other homeowners against insurance companies disputing damage claims.

"I walked down to the park for the fifth anniversary," Rector said. "After walking back to my house, I was outside talking to my neighbor. He asked how it was. I said, 'I'm done! No more. Time to move on.' I don't want to reminisce at all. I said to a colleague I saw at the park that I've received more mileage and unrequested sympathy for losing my house than if I was dead. Another attorney we all know died over the weekend, and I said, 'Talk of him will last until noon today, then we all move on.' Long answer. But yes, I want it gone."

See the point? Everyone in the region became spectators to the horrific Waldo Canyon Fire, but that doesn't give us a free pass to bring back the same memories year after year, especially when we might be dealing with others who suffered through the ordeal.

Those people deserve our respectful silence now. Not our annual reliving of the same terrible story.

C.J. Moore put it best. All we should do, she said, is mark the moment in years to come, make a quick reference to acknowledge the date, and then go back to our personal lives.

Sounds like a plan.


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