If The Trees Go, So Shall We Follow:
Aftermath of the Marshall Fire
With the advent of 24hr cable news, we see every catastrophe in the world in real time. It becomes both normal and numbing: “Oh, another tornado!” Whether by nature or a human hand, it seems constant in today’s world.
Thankfully I’ve never experienced a catastrophe first hand and until recently I had never seen an aftermath up-close-and-personal. That changed on a recent visit to Colorado where I was up-close-and-personal with the aftermath of the Marshall Fire.
“On December 30, 2021, shortly before 10:30 am a grass fire broke out in Boulder County, Colorado, United States. The large fire was named the Marshall Fire by local fire authorities. In terms of structures lost, it was the most destructive fire in Colorado history.
An unusually humid spring with above average growth of the grass due to the wet conditions, followed by an unusually warm and dry summer and fall created ideal conditions for wildfires. Additionally, high winds were recorded in the area, with gusts of up to 115 miles per hour. The winds were driven by the mountain wave effect, and allowed for rapid spread of the fire.
As of the evening of January 1, 2022, an estimated 1084 structures, including houses, a hotel and at least one shopping center, had burned as a result of the rapidly spreading Marshall Fire, and another 149 damaged. Six burn injuries were confirmed in Boulder County." (Wikipedia).
Given the extreme speed of the fire, it’s amazing that only two deaths were reported. But the destruction left behind sends a loud message, for those willing to listen, that climate change is far from fake news.
My goal was to do a photo essay about the aftermath of the Marshall Fire. Of course there is nothing novel about photographing destruction after such an event, but I wanted to see if there were a story that others might not find: The-Story-Within-The Story!
The Marshall Fire was very selective. It could consume one side of the street and leave the other side untouched. It could consume one home after another, and leave the next spared. It could level one commercial building and leave others nearby untouched- so is the random rampage of such a demon.
Most areas of destruction I visited were fenced off and there were often police to prevent entry for safety reasons. But I found one housing community called “The Enclave,” located in Louisville, Colorado, that had no such barriers to entry, only a sign warning: “Enter At Your Own Risk,” so I did with camera in hand! The only people I saw were construction workers clearing the site- no one noticed my presence.
The mid-March day was sunny, but the wind whipped against me making walking, much less holding a camera steady, quite difficult. But that wind was a mere fraction of what drove the Marshall Fire.
I’ve often wondered how developers come up with names for housing communities- they often sound so trite. Do the names tell us anything meaningful about the communities or the people?
Enclave: “a distinct territorial, cultural, or social unit enclosed within or as if within foreign territory” (Merriam-Webster). If the name is meant to suggest that this community is in any way separate from the outside world, the Marshall Fire didn’t get the memo- it came right in and made itself at home!
The Enclave: It’s beautiful entry remains intact, but flags, flowers, and charred items portend what will be seen inside.
It looked as though a bomb had leveled this place.
Streams formed by molten metal show the intense heat this community endured.
The lives of families were turned upside down.
And the rubble- this community seemed almost vaporized.
Even heavy brick walls offered little resistance.
What wonderful scenery The Enclave once offered.
The telltale sign of charred wood was everywhere.
Charred posts stood like soldiers guarding the remains.
Artistic embellishments so carefully collected by homeowners were laid waste.
And the things that made life in The Enclave so enjoyable.
A homeowner must have retrieved these items from the rubble.
If there is one image that defines every community in America, it’s the basketball hoop- this one remained standing.
This one was cut down.
And the wheels that will turn no more… little people’s wheels.
Big people’s wheels... this dream Porsche became a nightmare.
My response to everything I saw was totally expected, sadness but not surprise. But it was the trees that really got my attention.
Apparently the people, and hopefully their pets, escaped without harm other than loss of property. But there was life that couldn’t escape- the trees! They had to stay and face the wind driven flames.
The trees I saw were largely charred. Perhaps some might survive given a chance, but they will likely be removed in the reconstruction of this valuable real estate.
It was the trees that touched me the most in The Enclave.
Remembering the violence.
A family embraced as it perished.
I'm not suggesting this was really a family of trees that understood what was happening… It’s up to us to feel for them and to know how important they are to our lives.
My time in The Enclave made me realize the importance of our life sustaining partners and appreciate even more the impact of climate change, up-close-and-personal.
If The Trees Go, So Shall We Follow… and that is The Story-Within-The-Story, The Hidden Gem!
Published April 9. 2022
Published April 9. 2022