Colorado Wildfires and People with Disabilities
Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Contact : Disabled World
Published: 2013-06-16 - (Updated: 2019-01-12)
The Black Forest area of Colorado is located north of Colorado Springs and currently enduring a dangerous wildfire.
The Black Forest area of Colorado is located just a couple of minutes north of the City of Colorado Springs and at the time of this writing is still enduring a wildfire. The fire is now 55% contained, but is not the only wildfire in the area.
Another wildfire is still burning at the Royal Gorge, which is located to the west of the city. In Black Forest, two people have died and 483 homes have burned to the ground, making this wildfire worse than the Waldo Canyon Fire I personally survived last summer.
The Royal Gorge is the location of the world's highest suspension bridge and is just outside of Canon City. It is also very near to the Territorial Prison where a number of offenders with disabilities were located. The prison was evacuated - more than 900 prisoners were relocated because of the Royal Gorge fire. From what I understand, the state of Colorado has never had to evacuate a prison facility before.
The Natural Environment
The Waldo Canyon fire of last summer in the Mountain Shadows and Colorado Springs area was described as the worst one in the state's history. Right now, the Black Forest fire north of Colorado Springs has just claimed this notorious title due to the number of homes destroyed. The fire in Black Forest reached 15,700 acres burned and has yet to be 100% contained.
The natural environment in Colorado presents a number of different features that work in favor of wildfires during summer months. These features include:
- Scrub bushes
- Dry conditions
The heat in this area has been exceptionally high; it has already reached the high 90's and above this summer. Here in Pueblo, CO I have already witnessed a day when the temperature reached 102 degrees F. The wind has worked against firefighting efforts, fanning the flames and increasing the damages done to homes and the environment. The trees in Black Forest and the Royal Gorge areas, along with scrub bushes, have provided raw fuel for the fires to burn.
Into this mix of conditions the state has also experienced thunderstorms and lightning. Lightning has sparked a couple of smaller fires as well; one of these fires is located in a forest to the south. Another smaller fire is located in Teller County. Fire jumpers parachuted into one of these fires to put it out because it is located in a remote area.
What This Means to Us
What this means to people with disabilities, seniors, veterans, and others who experience health conditions is that there has been a lot of wildfire smoke in the air. It means there has been a real and present danger to many of us, one that requires an immediate response on our own parts as well as the parts of our family members and friends when we are unable to take action ourselves. It means that emergency personnel, while seemingly ever-present in these areas, are focused on firefighting and other efforts and not concentrating on us necessarily.
While observing events surrounding these fires I noticed some different things related to people with disabilities. One of them is that at recent meetings related to these fires broadcast on television, an American Sign Language (ASL) translator was present for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. Yet I did not find any mention of emergency personnel working with people who experience forms of disabilities at all. Nor did I find any mention of specific places people who experience disabilities could evacuate to if they had particular needs.
In a rather unfortunate action from a disability and other perspectives, the Mayor of Colorado Springs had just welcomed members of last year's Waldo Canyon fire's Mountain Shadows community back to their community. The action was unfortunate because the mayor neglected to mention the thousands of other people affected by the fire, including people with disabilities. I am left to wonder which politician will ignore us after the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires are over. At least the mayor ignored us along with the thousands of others who ran for their lives who were not a part of the Mountain Shadows community; I suppose one might call that, 'inclusion.'
Reactions to the Fires in Colorado
People who live in the Black Forest and Royal Gorge areas are understandably anxious to get back into the communities they live in to find out if their homes are still there. Unfortunately, there are still mandatory evacuation zones in place - the National Guard will not allow people back in until these zones have been lifted. Some people are being allowed back in, but there is a long way to go. Yesterday some people were allowed back into Black Forest to retrieve medications or pets, but only with an escort, after which they had to leave again.
From a mental health perspective, the fires in Black Forest and the Royal Gorge finds many more people experiencing health issues such as PTSD and depression. People who lived through the Waldo Canyon fire of last summer are watching the fires this summer and re-experiencing the trauma they endured las summer. Fortunately, counselors are offering their services in the area to people who are having trouble dealing with these natural disasters, often times at little or absolutely no cost.
Personally, I have watched massive bands of smoke pass by in the skies outside of my own home, even here in Pueblo. The smoke from the Royal Gorge fire has been terrible at times, finding me inside with the air conditioner on in recirculate mode. Witnessing others going through the same mandatory evacuations I had to endure last summer has been difficult, but the sense of community in Colorado is overwhelmingly positive.
People have been donating everything from food and bottled water to socks and snacks for the firefighters. They have been donating their time to work with lost animals, people in shelters, and helping those who are in need of assistance. Their efforts are continuing and for this many people are grateful, to include people with disabilities.
Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke
Smoke commonly dilutes over distance, yet plumes of smoke that have been carried for even hundreds of miles may still contain particles that are sufficient enough to impact a person's health.
Wildfires Before, During and After the Crisis
If you have been advised to evacuate your home, do it immediately. Take your disaster supply kit with you, lock your home up, and select a route away from the wildfire.
Dangers of Residing in Aging Apartment Buildings
The tendency for enforcement of fire codes among older apartment building to become more slack or lax over time in larger cities leaves the burden of self-protection on the shoulders of people with disabilities, veterans, seniors, and our family members and friends.
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