Armageddon—the end of times—is an event foreshadowed in the Bible. The Book of Revelation lays out a horrific scene of thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and 75-pound hailstones.
The worst of it affects Babylon. But many cities in many nations, the passage says, “fall into heaps of rubble.”
It does not specifically mention Boulder County, or the Denver suburbs hit by devastating fires last week.
But for families sorting through what was left of their homes on a sunny New Year’s Day—in single-digit temperatures under a foot of new snow—it must have felt exactly like Armageddon.
Think of it. It’s Thursday afternoon, the last workday of a shortened workweek. Or maybe you took the week off. You anticipate a long, relaxing post-Christmas weekend. Maybe a New Year’s party on Friday night, or a quiet night at home with the kids.
You’re driving home. The landscape is brown and bone dry, after nearly zero appreciable snowfall all winter, so far. The wind is vicious, whipping across US 36. The radio confirms it. Gusts are exceeding 100 mph. And, what? Grass fires?
Who the hell ever heard of grass fires in December? After Christmas. In the suburbs of Denver. Seems like all you can remember from New Years past is cold and snow.
The radio says fire is approaching some residential subdivisions—including your own.
Then you spot the flames. In the distance, on the horizon. My god, this is serious. The ground is burning. The fire is moving west to east faster than your car.
You’re almost home and you get the call. It is a recorded message, a “reverse 911,” from a synthetic, non-human voice. Attention Louisville and Superior residents. Danger is imminent due to high winds are rapidly spreading fires. All occupants are ordered to fully evacuate your home by 3:45 PM Mountain Standard Time.
You turn the corner onto your street, and things get real. The neighbors are in panic, loading pet crates and boxes and bags full of belonging into cars and SUV’s parked at crazy angles on lawns and up and down their driveways. Dogs are barking and the wind is wild, nearly blowing small children off their feet.
Inside, the family already knows—they are two steps ahead of you, grabbing laptops from desks and papers from countertops and family photos from the walls. You have 20 minutes until—until what? Until they come and arrest you? Until the house is on fire? Until there is so much chaos that you can’t drive out of the inferno neighborhood?
You make a decision, then an announcement. Let’s just go. We’re out of time. The kids are hysterical. Outside, acrid smoke stings your eyes. The neighborhood is still nuts. You drive away in two cars, using your wipers to clear away ash from the windshield, and join a sad, confused parade of vehicles moving out of the subdivision.
Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday must have been the worst days of many people’s lives. As they huddled in hotels and relatives’ homes and the YMCA, they wondered if they would have homes to go home to. It turned out, nearly a thousand families did not. All of that trauma supplanted a festive holiday weekend. A cruel conclusion to a year that, for many, wasn’t so great from the start.
It was a reminder: Life is unfair. We all come to understand that by adulthood. We might be blessed with nice families and comfortable homes and good health. Someone else has more, a lot of people have less, and we live with that.
Life is random. In an instant, things shift. Maybe it’s cancer, or a car crash, or pink slip after 30 years with the company. Suddenly you’re unmoored and wondering what you did to deserve it. Often the answer is, nothing. You’ve done nothing whatsoever to provoke what comes along.
Misfortune is disproportionate. There was a scene in “Better Call Saul,” where two helpless teenagers are bound and gagged, writhing on the desert floor. They are about to be murdered by drug dealers in retribution for some petty offense. Jimmy McGill, their advocate and a fast-talking lawyer, is pleading for their lives.
Sure the kids did wrong, he acknowledges. “But think about proportionality!” The resourceful attorney brings a lesson from law school to his negotiation with the drug thugs. The absurdity of it is comical. He successfully pleads the punishment down to one broken leg per offender.
Losing a house and all of its contents is an awful thing, deserved by no one and proportionate with nothing. But the capricious gods stopped short of complete cruelty. Nobody died. No known fatalities have resulted from last week’s ferocious fires and war-scale evacuation operation.
A final insult came on New Year’s Eve, with neighborhoods decimated and flames still flickering. Like a Hallmark Christmas card, the season’s first significant snow started to fall, arriving on the latest calendar date ever on record. The moisture began extinguishing what remained of nearly a thousand house fires, but 24 hours too late.