Three years ago this month, our community suffered a devastating wildfire the likes of which had never been seen in Colorado history. Inside of a week, the Black Forest Fire consumed almost 15,000 acres and displaced 38.000 residents. When the fire was finally contained over 500 homes had been destroyed. It was an almost unimaginable force of nature, and a miracle that only two residents lost their lives.
My family and I – and the several horses on our property – were forced to evacuate thirty miles to the north, waiting almost a week to learn the fate of our home. We couldn’t check our phones for real-time updates. Instead, we were at the mercy of twice-daily television reports. We were glued to the screen as the spokesperson would list impacted streets and addresses. By the grace of God our house was spared, even though the fire came within a mile of our property. But the beautiful Black Forest now bears a miles-long scar that will be evident for decades, if not hundreds of years.
The fire was a testament to a higher power, but also to the efforts of the “first-responders”. Almost 500 firefighters battled the blaze; probably ten times the number manning our local stations. I am in awe of these professionals, working tirelessly as well as putting their lives on the line for people like myself whom they will never meet. They are the epitome of heroism.
A year after the fire our community established “4 Miles in the Forest”, an annual fun run to benefit the Black Forest Fire/Rescue department. “4 Miles…” attracts several hundred participants, including the firefighters themselves. It is conducted at Section 16, a square mile of the forest with a trail around the perimeter for walking, running, biking, and horseback riding. Thanks to an elementary school within the Section the firefighters held the line and saved the entire property.
When I ran the inaugural “4 miles…”, I was delighted to find I was pacing one of the firefighters most of the way. He must have been carrying 50 pounds of gear as he ran. He was being coached by one of his superiors – as if in boot camp. My own effort was buoyed by the thought that I was accompanied by this truly selfless individual.
This year’s run was different. I found myself alone most of the way, well-spaced between the leaders and the walkers. The solitude gave me time to dwell on the significance of the race: a memorial to a tragic event as well as a testament to those who brought the fire to an end. As I completed the run, I realized my participation had nothing to do with winning the race or where I placed or how fast I had run. In fact it had nothing to do with me at all. Instead my running was a tribute to the selflessness of others; their willingness to fight and protect without reward or recognition. I know they would come to my rescue again without question. They are heroes in every sense of the word.