Colorado Springs, June 26, 2012
Catastrophic, absolutely catastrophic I think as I stand on the ridge watching the Waldo Canyon fire voraciously churn across the front range of the mountains outside of Colorado Springs. Several children play tag nearby and I am conflicted by the paradox; innocent children playing freely while a firestorm secretly gathers behind the veil of smoke. This is not second-hand information; it’s not a news report. This is reality at its absolute worst.
Standing with a group of gathered strangers taking pictures behind the East Library, I raise my camera to capture what I can’t believe I’m actually seeing with my own eyes. A holy hush descends over us all. Whispered questions rise with the gusting winds where we stand, only to be carried away by our profound, corporate grief.
This is our home. This is our city. These are our mountains. These are our neighbors.
One by one the people and the children fade away until I stand alone on the ridge trying to absorb the unimaginable. I pray, but there are no words. I grieve, but there is no relief. Finally, my mind surrenders to my agonizing spirit and I am able to pray for the city, evacuees, emergency workers, dispatchers, firefighters, and everyone affected by the monstrous scene in front of me.
“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. We will not fear,” I repeat over and over to God…and to myself actually.
Though the mountain quakes, we will not fear. I will not fear…
Anxious to make it home to catch the end of the 4 o’clock news briefing, I cut my prayer short and dart to Wal Mart on Woodmen for one last stop. As I enter the parking lot, the vertical smoke plume I’d just photographed at the library begins swelling exponentially. It comes to life billowing across the front-range. They tell us this is to be expected.
It’s normal; don’t worry about it.
This is normal?
Yes, fire is a living, breathing thing.
Okay, I’m new to living in a wildfire area; I’ll believe them.
No worries; it’s normal.
I snap more pictures and rush home. I take up a media vigil in front of my computer and log onto the local online news site. Everything sounds great. The firefighters, C-130s, and other workers are making great headway. There are no new evacuations to report, no structures lost, no injuries to report, and they are talking containment. Wow, such terrific news!
Suddenly, at the end of the news conference, the mountain explodes. I can almost feel the concussion race through the officials at the staging area at Coronado High School as they attempt to absorb what has just happened. They gather around television monitors trained on the hillside and see a voracious, snarling dragon storming down the ridge behind them.
Stunned reporters search for words. They stammer. Flames shoot hundreds of feet into the air instantly filling the front-range with smoke, ash, and debris.
The dragon roars.
After the initial shockwave reverberates through the gathered leaders, officials seize control. They relay new evacuation orders, road closures, and directives to the citizens of Colorado Springs. Media outlets transmit the updates. Evacuees throw possessions and pets into their cars to make a mad dash to safety. As they stream out of their neighborhoods, evacuees run headlong into a massive traffic jam. People panic. Many drive down the wrong side of the road. Police intervene. They direct traffic. Commuters and evacuees clog the roadways. The incident commander closes the interstate.
Fire races down Queen’s Canyon toward the city incinerating everything in its wake. I watch in horror. We all watch in horror. Hundreds of homes and businesses are torched and utterly consumed. My Facebook page erupts with messages of concern from family and friends around the world. People post pictures. They offer their prayers. They send me verses.
“Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)
God is a consuming fire?
It’s normal; don’t worry about it.This is normal?
In the face of the powerful firestorms this week, I have been revisiting my respect for God. Do I really understand what Scripture means when it says God is a consuming fire? Do I know what it is to “fear” God? To revere Him? To be in awe of Him? James 4:8 encourages us to “draw near to God,” and, frankly, I find that challenging. Like the innocent children playing tag in the shadow of a firestorm, I am conflicted by the paradox of drawing near to a “consuming fire.”I’m working on it, but I’m challenged by it.
(To be continued…)
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.