I am feeling a combination of shock, relief, thankfulness and wariness now that the Lake Christine Fire is not threatening downtown Basalt. I live part-time in Redstone and part-time in Fraser. Just like here, in the Roaring Fork Valley we all knew that fire would eventually come, but to see it happen in the back yard is a real eye-opener. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that fires that spark during prolonged droughts are extremely dangerous and downright shocking to witness firsthand.
Many structures and probably many lives were saved because of the incredible performance of valley responders who worked in concert with federal officials. The community benefitted from how well the response was organized and executed, from Keith Brink, chief of fire operations, right on down to the regional and local firefighters and countless local volunteers who worked the lines and supported the efforts to feed and support those with the shovels and hoses.
The pilots flying customized aircraft on low and dangerous missions in wild and windy weather have nerves of steel, and contributed to saving hundreds of homes in Basalt and the vicinity. They put it all on the line so that others could carry on. Wow. Such bravery and dedication and expertise are not to be underestimated or taken for granted.
The creatures of the forest had to run, fly or simply die as walls of flame overtook their habitats and homes. Forest ecosystems have a way of renewing and regrowing after a wildfire. The flame and ash shift the phases of the fire regime. Certain organisms benefit from these burned conditions, and some are rising from the ashes right now.
Before celebrating any rebirth and regrowth, though, we should consider the influence of inconvenient man-influenced climate change on the ecosystem. Climate researchers say that one effect of recent changes is hotter fires in drier areas, leading to less regrowth from woody plants and increased vulnerability in the future. I’ve only been in Colorado for 36 years. I can testify that from my perspective the local environment has become steadily hotter and drier and more combustible.
How convenient it would be to simply not believe that we impact our environment. But when I look around I see humans everywhere. Like ants.
The human infestation has been fueled by an economic engine that burns stuff at the expense of the natural world. Humans are part of the natural world, and burning stuff has come naturally to us for hundreds of thousands of years. Climate change is natural. And human. Now our brains are so big that we know what’s happening. That doesn’t make it easy to act collectively. The arguments continue.
Local climate changes have led to beetle infestations, less rain and snow, shorter winters, increased dust and pollution, and the ability to grow tomatoes in Aspen. We simply must do what we can to address our local issues instead of relying on putting heroes in harm’s way.
It does not help that the leader of the free world claims that climate change is not real, but a hoax perpetuated on the world by communists from China.
Now is our chance to work on preventing this kind of catastrophe and address the causes, both little and large. The spark for the Lake Christine Fire started with tracer round fire at the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range. A much smaller fire, the Byers Canyon Fire was started by .223 full metal jacket rounds at the Byers Canyon Shooting Range in 2015.
Some argue that the range in Basalt should have been closed because of local Stage 2 fire restrictions and extreme dry conditions. (The Byers Canyon Range just closed due to fire danger.) The day the fire started in Basalt, it was illegal to smoke outside but still legal to shoot weapons unsupervised. Still others point out that some kind of licensing system on guns and stuff like tracer rounds might (once again) slow the unqualified from ruining things.
Yes, the Lake Christine Fire was ignited by locals misbehaving with guns, but the rest of us share some responsibility for creating the conditions that led to high fire danger in the first place. That fire could have easily been sparked by a trailer dragging a chain, a careless smoker of weed or tobacco, fireworks or other firearms, or kids playing with matches.
The community response and the expertise of the firefighters was nothing short of phenomenal. We owe it to them and each other to prepare for and prevent the next catastrophe. The fire season has just begun.
Reach Steve Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org.