By Monterey Buchanan

The author Monterey Buchanan and her grandmother Janet Buchanan

For those of us fortunate enough not to have lost homes or livelihoods due to the effects of climate change, the impacts of the climate crisis can often feel far away. The science tells us the situation is urgent, but the impact on our own lives is not dramatic,  but extreme weather events like Boulder’s Marshall Fire are becoming more common and destructive. In addition to the thousands of Coloradans already impacted, more and more Coloradans are seeing the effects of the climate crisis in their own lives. I am beginning to count myself among this group.

From a statistical perspective, I knew the Marshall Fire was devastating: According to The Denver Post article Marshall fire destroyed 1,084 homes worth a combined half-billion dollars, new assessment shows” the fire destroyed over a thousand homes, caused over $500 million in damage, and is considered the most destructive wildfire in state history. The Guardian adds that 35,000 people fled the destruction. The impacts of the fire were also made worse by climate change. A Denver Post article states that dry conditions in Colorado contribute to perfect wildfire conditions and that climate change has created “year-long fires” rather than fire seasons in Colorado. Because the climate crisis creates alarming statistics frequently, it can be easy to forget the human stories behind these numbers. For me, this disconnect often made it harder for me to see the relationship between climate change and my own life.

The climate crisis was made much more human for me when my grandmother, Janet Buchanan, was evacuated. Janet lives in Lafayette, a town about ten miles east of Boulder. She says of her experience during the evacuation order: “When they give a blanket evacuation in Lafayette, that’s a big order, and there were pockets that were in trouble but we were not in trouble. I was never in any danger, but I live in a place that called for an evacuation, so that’s what we did….You’re not trying to sort that out, you’re just doing what is best for the situation. Better to be safe than sorry.” 

Thankfully, my grandmother’s evacuation was short, and she did have family to go to, but even the possibility that my family might be impacted was unsettling for me. It challenged my false sense of security that—though I care deeply about climate change as an issue—it was not a direct threat to myself or my loved ones. The fire also took an emotional toll on my grandmother as she empathized with those more directly affected: “It’s just sad to see it. So many homes destroyed…fire has no conscience. I’m hoping these people will be able to get back on their feet.”

While my grandmother was lucky to not lose any home or family to the Marshall Fire, the fact that this was even a possibility was urgent and frightening. For others, the fire did far worse. A recent CPR News article, “‘What was important was life’: Marshall fire evacuee recalls losing his house, and being saved by the community” interviewed Louisville, CO resident Larry Bowen and his wife Mary about losing their home to the fire. While the couple hoped their house would be saved, conditions in the area became too dangerous, and they had to evacuate. The CPR article quotes Larry Bowen about the evacuation: “‘I just was more concerned about lives than I was about property. And I know that it would’ve been nice to have maybe picked up some of our pictures or some personal items that we can’t ever replace, but for whatever reason, I just decided that wasn’t important. What was important was life,’ he said.” According to the same article, The local community and United Methodist Church came through to support the Bowens and give them a place to stay. However, given the likely increase in these extreme fires due to climate change, there will almost certainly be an increase in stories like this as extreme weather events become more frequent.

350 CO volunteers greet President Biden in Superior during his visit to assess the Marshall Fire

The Marshall Fire even gained national attention, when President Biden visited the communities destroyed during the sixth climate disaster tour of his presidency, according to “‘We can’t ignore reality’: Colorado fires highlight urgency of US climate legislation.” In the piece, President Biden is quoted making an explicit connection between the Colorado fire, and worsening climate change: “We can’t ignore the reality that these fires are being supercharged. They’re being supercharged by changing weather.” Thus, even though climate change is a global issue, its presence can be felt in local weather events. The same article makes the connection between the Marshall Fire, and Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which includes funding for wildfire resiliency among many other projects for addressing climate change nationally; the legislation’s progress has slowed due to opposition from Joe Manchin and other lawmakers.  

While this lack of legislative action is especially frustrating in the wake of the Marshall Fire, and the expectation of other extreme weather events, the good news is, local people do not have to wait for action from the federal government to begin making a difference. 350 Colorado has already called for change in the wake of the Marshall Fire, with 350CO Campaign Director Deb McNamara calling on Governor Jared Polis should declare a climate emergency. 350 Colorado activists also recently participated in a “State of the Climate” rally to demand action on climate change from Governor Polis after the Marshall Fire, among other actions.

The Marshall Fire’s potential impact on my family, and the devastation it wrought on so many others, were among the things that renewed my resolve to fight climate change this year. Action is, after all, the best antidote to climate anxiety. If you feel the same way, consider getting involved in fighting climate change in Colorado, join one of 350Colorado’s campaigns, check out the Resources section., and the 350 Colorado Facebook page.