Sunday, April 22, 2012


Today is one of those Colorado days that simply defies description. The sun will cook your skin without remorse but the shade will make you shiver in winters final attempt to assert itself. Yesterday was the same and we had yet another crew out to the "site" to sift through the burnt bones of our home in hopes of finding any remaining treasure. But the main objective was to shake loose more of the hidden memories of "stuff" so it could be recorded as an entry in the growing inventory of casualties. We have mercifully declared the sifting done. The process is one of reliving the loss over and over again and I have frankly had enough.

I was headed up the road yesterday and encountered someone coming down the other way. I did not recognize the white Bronco and did not recognize the driver until he re-introduced himself. "Hi Dave, Scott Appel," he said. I shuddered and I could feel the blood rapidly leaving my face. The sudden recognition of this man and the equally sudden comprehension of the reality of recent events left me stunned. Scott's wife died in that fire. I reached through my open drivers side window to meet Scott's hand and heard some words leave my lips that said, "Scott.... SO sorry for your loss." I instantly felt inadequate in my greeting because the words clearly did not communicate my feelings nor could they come close to summarizing the magnitude of what this man must be dealing with. We lost all our stuff but.....

I got out and talked with Scott. We spent no more than 5 minutes together but the impact was such that I will never forget it. It was like being cut with a razor sharp knife. The site of the blood indicates that something has happened but the odd numb feeling does not betray the depth of the cut. I reached for something to quell the bleeding and braced myself for the immanent pain that was to follow. An acrid cocktail of anger, sadness and general impotence in the face of what Scott must certainly be dealing with washed over me. And all that has happened finally became real.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


And from the ashes will rise the Pheonix in all its glory...

Nope, not yet. Can't quite stomach the "Woo" yet. I must admit that I have seen some beauty in this but it has mostly been in the form of the people in our community, our family and our dear friends who have not left our side for a moment in the face of some pretty confusion human emotions.

I have never had such a disconnected feeling of angst. It is fairly easy to generate anger. But it is much more difficult to pinpoint the source of the underlying feelings. I described it last night like I was just hanging on to anything in fear that pieces of me would start falling off. I don't want to let go of the anger because that would somehow mean that all of this was not important. But I cannot keep this up because it is exhausting and leaves me with a taste in my mouth like I have been sucking on pennies - dirty, bloody, unsatisfying and a little sick to my stomach. But when I really get in touch with the sadness, it seems disembodied like some spirit blowing through the trees that I can't quite make out. It doesn't make sense.

I have markers for the change of seasons. My favorite time of year is spring and early summer. I long for the markers. First, it is usually the sound of the first humming bird speeding by on its way to some singular flower that it has discovered among the early sprouts of green. Then, the smell of lilacs and most poignantly for me, the sound of frogs emerging from their slumber.

This year, the frogs were first as if the heat of the fire roused them early from their sleep. The sound is disjointed and out of place like my feelings about what has happened. What was the beautiful, much anticipated croaking is to me tinny and sterile with no connection to anything. It is lost like ringing in my ears or a cell phone on speaker. There is no depth or connection. I have no markers to mark the changing of this season. I am lost and making my way through the ash with nothing to show me the way but the smell of smoke and a bit of anger to point me in some direction. I hope its the right one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Everything Humanly Possible...

That was the message from the governor's representative, Mike King, last night at the Conifer Town Hall meeting. "We will do everything humanly possible to prevent this from happening again." Everything except say..... oh I don't know, removing immunity from government officials and holding someone to account. I suppose that is beyond human reach.

We also discovered last night that, "In the future, there will be one person accountable and that person will answer directly to the governor." 'Wait a minute', you say. 'Are you telling me that isn't the case now?!' Yes, that's exactly what I am telling you. Not only are these idiots immune to prosecution, but they are accountable to no one, at least not the governor.

The whole thing was a bunch of fluff, hand waving and reassurances that the lessons learned would benefit others in the future. Well, isn't that nice. I am so glad they learned some lessons. That really should help. For those that lost their lives, lost loved ones and/or lost homes, I am sure they will sleep better. I for one could really give a good God damn if they learned their lessons, "we paid the tuition", as one man said.

Coe Meyer, my neighbor who also lost his home, said in an interview with WKOA that "the operation was successful but the patient died." Well said, Coe. How many operations does it take to realize they are killing the patient. Apparently, in this case, at least two.

So, let's look at the facts...

In the burn plan review, and from the governor's office, in October of last year they were performing a test burn under very similar conditions in the exact same location. Guess what? The fire got away from them and they had to scramble to put it out and barely averted a wild fire. Are you kidding me!? This taught them nothing. I suppose since there was no one really watching, it didn't count.

Also, according to the review, and in direct violation of the burn plan, no one was monitoring the burn. I watched the fire smolder from Thursday to Sunday before I left for business trip in Seattle. It said in the report that they dropped in and noticed the fire was still burning, did exactly nothing, and left again. Now, I want to back up for just a second. The report also stated the need for better, more high tech weather forecasting. I have a little app on my smart phone called Weather Bug that had been sending me Fire Weather warnings all through March. And, it had forecasted high winds starting several days prior to the 26th. If I have access to that information, what the hell are they talking about? I think what they really need is a transfusion of common sense. Any idiot knows that if you have tinder box conditions and winds forecasted, you don't start a fire much less walk away from one you already started.

So, a fire weather watch, meaning high winds, was issued on the 24th. That was predicted to be upgraded to a Red Flag warning on the 25th and on the 26th was upgraded to a Red Flag (meaning, "Jesus Fucking Christ, you better not have an open fire or you Fucked!!"... sorry, I digress.) So, they sent the ICT4 (Incident Comander) and two firemen in a pickup truck to check it out. By then the wind was gusting up to 60 mph, they put out two spot fires before the third one got away from them. Brilliant! They must have been busier than a one legged man in an ass-kicking contest. And I don't mean to disparage our fire fighters, they do one helluva job. But the folks running this operation should be dealt with like any other criminally negligent tool.

Finally, I was told last night by Mike King, the governor's representative, that the person in charge of the burn is dealing with a terminally ill family member and "his head really isn't in the game." First of all, I would like to offer my deepest sympathy. I can imagine how distracting and heart wrenching that must be. I can imagine that because I just lost nearly everything I owned and almost lost my wife in that fire. So, I can guess at how that could impact someones judgment. In my case, I have had to ask people to cover for me on days when I cannot think straight because I am aware that I am not functioning at full capacity. That is because, it does not matter how I feel about it or what my intentions are, if I do not perform, I am ultimately responsible.

I wish we could all be judged on our intentions. Then I could do whatever I wanted and not be held responsible, because "I didn't mean to do it." By extension of that logic, the woman that started the Hayman fire should be released of all responsibility because she was feeling jilted. The CIA agents involved in the prostitution scandal should not be held to a higher standard because if they had known they were going to get caught, they wouldn't have hired those prostitutes and they didn't mean to give the CIA a black eye. The alcoholic who kills a family while driving in a black-out should be released from prison because they swear they learned their lesson and will never do THAT again.

Seriously, this is criminal negligence. And no amount of good intentions is going to change the fact that they did not follow their own plan, they burned 4100 acres, 21 homes (27 structures) and killed 3 people.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We're the Government. We're Here to Help...

"The mania for giving the Government power to meddle with the private
affairs of cities or citizens is likely to cause endless trouble,
through the rivalry of schools and creeds that are anxious to obtain
official recognition, and there is great danger that our people will
lose our independence of thought and action which is the cause of much
of our greatness, and sink into the helplessness of the Frenchman or
German [Greek or Chinese...] who expects his government to feed him when hungry, clothe him
when naked, to prescribe when his child may be born and when he may die,
and, in time, to regulate every act of humanity from the cradle to the
tomb, including the manner in which he may seek future admission to
paradise." ~ Mark Twain.
Every time I talk to someone about the fire, they say, "well, you were insured, right?" To which I respond, "Yes." Then they say something about the obvious culpability of the Forest Service. It is then that I must explain what the reality is. Our government looks out for itself and not the people that is serves. They are immune from prosecution and they have placed caps on compensation for this kind of incursion if you are skilled enough at navigating the tangled web of intentionally obfuscated paperwork. In this case, $600,000 per event and $150,00 per person. When I explain this, most are absolutely appalled and look at me in total disbelieve as if I had just explained to them that their mother had two heads. And I am sure that when I walk away many of them will tell themselves that I am just angry and I must have my facts wrong. After all, we live in America! How could this be?
"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
~ Thomas Jefferson
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. These are the things that government does when we are not looking. This is not some paranoid diatribe. It is a statement on human nature. Our founding fathers understood and feared this, which is why they created the government the way they did.
"Political power is the game of playing God. It changes a person and makes him different from the rest of us. He begins to believe he has some kind of right to interfere in the lives of others. He may even believe he has the right to choose who lives and who dies."
~ Richard Maybury
 The question is, what are we, as "people of good conscience", going to do? We have incredibly short attention spans. A year from now while we are still dealing with this many will have forgotten and the urgency to reform the "laws" that enabled this tragedy will have evaporated like gasoline on a hot day.

I am guilty of this myself. I rarely think of the tragedy that is the conflict in Afghanistan while our fellow countrymen and women continue to die. But that is what we do. How can we improve our collective memory and commit ourselves to kind of action that is necessary to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Rush

I was talking with someone at work on Monday. He said he had heard Rush Limbaugh talking about the recent fires. He was laughing about the fact that Rush said something to the affect of, "You see, you just can't trust the government" and proceeded to roll his eyes.

Now I have to qualify what I am about to say with the following: I have listened to Rush's show. In my view it is often intentionally inflammatory if not misleading. After all, he is showman first and news second. But when your right your right (no pun intended). Nail on the frigging head.

When our officials manage to negotiate, outside of public view, total immunity for themselves and their actions, all trust should be revoked. They are clearly acting in the interest of government and not in the interest of the people who put them in office (even if it is an appointed position which I am not sure about). Fortunately, we live in a country where we can remove them from office. But will we?

Here is where I start to say some things that may offend. So be it. WE are responsible for the state of government. Call it apathy or resignation, but we simply don't care enough to take the actions necessary to alter the status quot. Most people when asked or told about this singularly tragic event, and how it came about, will simply sigh and say something like, "yeah, well what can you do?..." like it wasn't partially their vote, or lack of it, that created the situation in the first place.

Folks, a vote and a voice are the tools at our disposal. We HAVE to use them. Three people died and 27 homes were lost because there is no reasonable threat of criminal responsibility for the idiots that signed off on this fiasco. What are WE going to do about that?


People continually ask me, "how are you doing?" or "how can you be working?" or some variation on those themes. My response is always, "What's the alternative?" I suppose I could sit around and feel sorry for myself and immerse myself in a steaming vat of self righteous anger while my business collapsed around me. And who could blame me? After all, wasn't this done TO me? But, to waht end? It serves no one. That is not to say that I am not dealing with real symptoms of PTSD, shock and waves of searing anger. But I ultimately get to choose how I respond and how I show up in the world.

I arrived in Seattle last night (Sunday). On the flight in, I started experiencing waves of panic. I was leaving my massively supportive community and heading back into the work environment. As I walked across the sky bridge to the taxi station, the air was warm and full of the smells of Spring time. The feelings of dread I was having was so out of sync with my surroundings that it left me confused and longing to turn around and go home. But this is what is in front of me. It is what is needed and what is to be done. If I spent all of my time honoring how I felt about things instead of dealing with my commitments, I would be curled up in a corner somewhere right now. Again, this is not to minimize the physical reactions people have when dealing severely stressful situations. But as I said, to the degree that I can choose, I will.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Yesterday we began the cleanup operation at our property. We were not sure how we would feel about it and as we approached the site and saw a small crowd loading sheets of twisted metal roofing panels into the back of a pickup truck, our emotions were mixed. Kristen expressed to me that for her, even though it was destroyed, it was all we had left and didn't want to dismantle it further. I was not sure that the people there would be at all connected to the pain we were feeling, which left me feeling odd because I would not really want anyone to actually experience that. As all those feelings settled out, they were quickly replaced by gratitude.

The community that came together (as listed in my wife's blog) was extraordinary. We had an amazing team of folks from the Evergreen Home Depot along with the donations of equipment and tools. And there was our group of friends that never ceases to amaze me with their level of generosity. We were moved beyond words. The care that was evident in the way people approached this task was no less than the care and attention we used ourselves. They treated it as if it were their own home lying there in ashes. Who could ask for more?

Searching for my wedding ring...

I would say that it is a demonstration of the very best of what makes us human. It has renewed my faith in the ability of people to rise to any occasion and meet the challenge with love and a sense of community.

I also have a request for those who are not part of the active operations in the Keuhster area; stay home. This is not a time to serve the normal human curiosity that arises in the midst of a disaster. The traffic in the area has tripled and I am certain that our population up there has not tripled since the fire. Some folks living near us on Rocky Top, which is a private road, caught some people driving past there house. When they asked them what they were doing up there, they responded, "Like the sign says, we may pass by permission of owner." When informed that they were in fact speaking to the owner, they had no valid response and were escorted from the property. Folks, this is trespassing, and we will protect what we have left. The police are more than willing to help us out.

So, please, show the kind of respect and care that those in our community have so generously demonstrated. And, even though Keuhster is a public road, please stay out if you don't live up there and you have not been invited.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Final Frontier

Yesterday I awoke with the final holdout of hope that maybe not everything was lost in the fire. I had a fire safe with a lot of very valuable guns and other things like silver bullion and my grandfather's gold pocket watch that had belonged to his grandfather before that.

Centurion safe by Liberty Safe company

I went and picked up my truck from my friends house. It had a generator in back that I had borrowed. We would need that to run the cutoff tool that would be used to cut through the "fire" steel at the top of the safe. The steel was about 1/8" thick so the process was not all that quick. I watched, waited and hoped as the sparks flew.

We videoed the entire affair and hoped that in the end we would be able to post a glowing victory video and hold up the manufacturer of the Centurion Fire Safe as a model of what a fire safe should be. That didn't happen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Forest Service Stupidity

I have this little app on my phone called WeatherBug. For pretty much the entire month of March it was sending me "Fire Weather" warnings. And I'm thinking to myself, "wow, this app has an incredible grasp of the obvious." Never underestimate the power of power to nullify an innate grasp of the obvious.

The week prior to the wild fire, the Colorado Forest Service (CFS) decided they needed do a "prescribed" burn or a "controlled" burn. Using the crew of supposedly "well trained" convicts from Jeffco jail, they proceeded to set the area above the North Fork alight. I watched from the deck in wonder. Why would they be doing this now, in the driest March I have experienced in Colorado since arriving here in 1996. But, they are the "authorities." They MUST know what they are doing. Apparently, I was mistaken. They stopped burning somewhere around Thursday but the burn continued to smoulder all weekend laying down a thin layer of smoke over the North Fork. Then the winds came.

I was in Seattle on business when I received a somewhat hysterical call from my wife Kristen. She could see the fire lighting up again (Taken from our deck starting at around 2:00 pm).

She called Inter Canyon fire department. The fire was not burning in their district so they had not been called in and did not have current information. We later found out that fire fighters living in our neighborhood had not been called to report for duty.

Fortunately for Kristen, she was able to see the fire and did not wait for a reverse 911 to tell her to get out, because that never came. I got a text on my cell at 4:10 pm in Seattle (5:10 pm Denver) telling me of mandatory evacuation. At this point, houses were already burning. Apparently a few people in Texas, Colorado Springs and Evergreen were also notified of the fire, which is useful.... not. Very few of the residents in our area actually got a 911 call, which is likely why 3 people are dead. Kristen probably got out about 30 minutes in front of the flames.

We later had a phone call with the Fire Chief that still seems surreal to me. He said that our home, our dream home that we had lived in for 9 years, was either a total loss or damaged beyond repair. I had a reaction that I can never recall having. The adrenaline was pumping so hard I thought my head would explode. I felt like I was under water. I could hear something going on around me, but I could not reconcile the fact that life continued to move as I felt frozen in time. Someone broke the spell and asked me what was wrong. I said very matter-of-factly that our home was gone. I was homeless.

I tried to get a flight out that night but was not able to find one. So, I stayed in Seattle. That was one of the longest nights I have ever spent, and not much of it was spent sleeping. I woke up with an adrenaline hangover that resulted in the worst headache I have ever had. Every move I made left me feeling like I would throw up. At 4:00, I was on my way to the airport. I arrived in Denver to a beautiful sunny day that seemed to mock me and the out of body experience I was having.

The CFS walked away from a fire they set and did not put out with high wind warnings announced for the weekend. Brilliant! But here is the part that really lights me on fire (get used to the puns, they will keep coming). Our CFS officials have managed to vote themselves into a position of immunity. They are immune to any criminal prosecution and there is a cap of $600,000 on any one event and $150,000 per person... if you can manage to navigate the convoluted legal process to actually get at the funds. This is our government at it's best. Make no mistake, this is ALL government, not just some outlying example. This is what I call "Government, by the government, for the government." They will do whatever they deem necessary without regard for the people they supposedly represent. If they have to create laws to protect themselves from their actions, maybe they should not be in the business of taking those actions. But instead, we are left to pay for CFS incompetence and irresponsibility with our property and our lives with absolutely no recourse.

Oh, but they did come out an apologize. That should fix it...