In the Darkness…Comes the Light

Smoke hangs heavy over my community this morning as the homes and forests of our neighbors to the south continue to burn. Fire fighting resources are stretched with many fires burning across the American west, and the Black Forest fire in particular is proving difficult because there is no single defensible fire line, instead it’s like putting out a bunch of spot fires all over the area.

As of this morning, they have counted 92 homes gone and estimate the size of the fire as high as 8,000 acres. Last night, they were putting some of the southeast part of Douglas County (where we live) on pre-evacuation orders. (Not to panic my readers, we are in the northwest part of the county and therefore don’t believe our home is in any danger).

In case you’re wondering what a fire that size looks like, this photo from one of the local TV stations was published overnight:

Black Forest wildfire

But there is good news as well. It appears that early reports of the Community Center burning were incorrect and as a result, the nearby yarn shop and other businesses may still be standing. (At this point, they really don’t know and the fire has doubled back so it is not safe to go in yet). As they always do, the Red Cross arrived right away, set up evacuation shelters for people and their pets, and is feeding people. Fairgrounds and other facilities have been opened to provide shelter for horses and other farm animals. Humane Society of Pike’s Peak is also sheltering pets. There are still no reports of deaths or missing persons.

One of the more interesting parts of all this is how we, the citizens, have turned social media into a force for good by crowdsourcing help to people who need it. I saw a lot of this yesterday, people asking for assistance and others responding with information or resources to help. Some examples:

The owner of the yarn shop mentioned on Facebook that her brother was being forced to evacuate and had no way to take his llamas or horses. They were facing the difficult decision of opening the gates and hoping for the best. Several people immediately responded with options, and the animals were safely evacuated.

A call went out on social media from a family last night needing help to get 30 horses and 9 dogs to shelter. It was shared through our community by a local news source and I woke up this morning to find that they had managed to get everyone (dogs, people, horses) out safely.

People with space to shelter people or animals were opening up their homes and properties to help their neighbors, by posting online their availability and how to contact them.

Twitter is alive with news updates and people sharing information about the fire evacuations.

Some of it is more formal, too. Red Cross Safe and Well is reconnecting families that had to evacuate.  Humane Society of Pike’s Peak is sharing photos of dogs that were lost from their people during the evacuation. By sharing them across Facebook, hopefully we will find their owners and reunite them with their people. In the meantime, they are being well cared for.

We talk a lot in our culture about how technology and social media make us disconnected but it amazes me how much these tools bring things home and make them more personal – now, even though I can’t personally show up with truck and trailer, I can help a family find their lost dog. That’s a force for good in my mind. So here’s to the human spirit, to the folks who show up to help, and to the folks who help by spreading the word on their smartphones and computers.

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