|Grass Fire by Robin Widmar. Copyright 2018.|
On our most recent fire, which happened on a cold, snowy Spring day (this is Colorado, after all), the property owner invited me to sit in his truck to stay warm while we talked about the fire that had just destroyed his nice barn. He stood outside for most of that discussion.
It reminded me of another incident from my volunteer firefighting days – an attic fire that should have been quickly knocked down, leaving the house mostly intact and repairable. Instead, the house went to the ground thanks in part to a plethora of tactical mistakes by the incident commander, who ignored advice from some very experienced officers. The fire happened on another cold and snowy day, but even as the fire consumed their house, the owners opened up their barn to allow firefighters respite from a brutal north wind. I think they even brought us drinking water.
Just a couple of months ago, neighbors and total strangers descended on a house and grass fire after seeing a plume of smoke in a treed area. Some had been through the destructive 2013 Black Forest fire; others were just passing by and stopped to help. They came together with shovels and rakes and buckets to haul water from a nearby home, working until firefighters arrived to avert another disaster in their community.
Human nature being what it is, not everyone handles a fire with grace. I’ve certainly encountered my share of upset, angry, and freaked-out people at fire scenes. Those emotions were driven by the circumstances and are perfectly understandable. At a minimum, fire disrupts the day and creates inconvenience. On the other end of the spectrum, fires are traumatic events that change lives.
I’ve written about reactions to fire before, but it bears repeating. Writers who don’t infuse some strong emotions into characters affected by fires don’t understand the full and lasting impact a fire can have on the human psyche.