No Sympathy for Colorado Wildfires Victims

The image above, which has been published in dozens of newspapers across the U.S. the past few weeks, depicts a suburban subdivision in Black Forest, CO that was devastated by a wildfire. You can see that the fire spared three older homes that were built on higher ground. Around them are the ruins of newer, larger homes. Judging from the size of the houses foundations and the lots they were sitting on, this was a very affluent neighborhood.

I live in Colorado, and every summer since I’ve been here there have been large, destructive fires in the mountains. News sources play up the human tragedy element of these stories and tally property loss. The real story, that Colorado is undergoing an environmental catastrophe and is transitioning to desert, is generally ignored. I personally find it difficult to sympathize with people who lose their homes in the wildfires. I think they are selfish and arrogant for living where they do. There are thousands of people up and down the Front Range who have built McMansions up in the hills, away from consolidated water utilities and quick-response emergency services. Black Forest, you’ll see that it’s miles away from Colorado Springs. If you look at the satellite image below of Black Forest, you’ll see that development sprawls throughout the forest and individual residences are distant from one another. The average lot is more than 5 acres in size. Except for a small water district to the south, everyone digs their own wells, has their own septic systems, and they are probably paying extra coin to Xcel Energy to get electricity and gas up there. If people are going to insist in on living relatively lavish lives in these remote places, I don’t see how I should be expected to have compassion for them when the inevitable wildfire comes to punish them for their hubris.

I was in Colorado Springs last week for a meeting. The air was hazy from two new wildfires and the smell of charcoal was everywhere. I was talking to a few of my colleagues who lived in town. They told me stories of people who had lost their homes in the Waldo Canyon fire around this time last year and who moved to Black Forest only to lose their new houses to a new fire. I held my tongue, but all I could think is that these were people who didn’t learn their lesson. It’s the oldest rule of the species: if you isolate yourself from the tribe, the world will crush you. Why couldn’t they just live in town?

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