The Black Forest Fire:

Last Tuesday I left work around 2:15 and drove from the monastery grounds onto Highway 83.  Within two minutes I came to the edge of the pine trees and as I drove west I began to see car after car pulled alongside the highway.  The temperature was nearly 100 degrees that day and I initially thought that tires had burst or cars overheated.  But the number of car grew as the seconds passed.  fireimage2Not 5 minutes after leaving the monastery, I looked left and there on the south side of the road, a few miles south was the beginnings of the Black Forest fire.  My first call went to the monastery as a warning and the second to my husband as I watched the fire grow quickly, large plumes of gray and white and the darkest black streaming high into the sky.  To see it so close and to know that the ongoing drought brought the highest levels of fire danger in the entire state, left me in with sense of panic that it was so close to the monastery and to all those homes. I felt a strong sense of hopelessness.  I stopped on Powers Blvd and looking East, prayed that firefighters were already on site.  I couldn’t drive.  I watched in the distance as red flames popped up and knew trees and structures were fueling the fire.

fireimages1I had been out of town the previous summer when Colorado’s Waldo Canyon fire jumped the canyon, quickly destroying homes and had been home for the aftermath. I prayed for early containment, but as I watched the speed of the spread over just a few minutes, I wondered how many it would take.  I couldn’t decide if I should return to work to see if help was needed or continue home.  I felt paralyzed but the words of Bob Dufford’s “Be Not Afraid” came instantly in my mind base on the words of the prophet Isaiah.  ” When you pass through raging water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.” (Is 43.2) They brought me comfort and the reminder of God’s presence through all devastation – both with the fire and as I though back over a year where floods, avalanches, earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis and blizzards frequently made the news, often resulting in loss of life.chinaearthquake

Within the next few hours air support was ordered and as the hours ticked by we watched news coverage of air vehicles carrying and dumping bambi baskets with thousands of gallons of water onto spots of the fire with others dropping retardant.  Air support flew over the house in the morning and into the fire 10 miles north.  They looked like a flock of large birds hovering, diving and rising.  The song “On Eagle’s Wings”  kept playing in my head as I watched.  I thought about the things that remind us of God’s presence during difficult times. fireiamge3 aerial support For me, its always been music that restores my hope and helps me remember God’s promise of everlasting presence.

Then, there are those moments when people reach out through the space of devastation. On Wednesday morning, I received and email from Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, my alma mater, offering prayers and wishes for the safety of my family.  That afternoon the email was passed to the CSC sisters on campus,  who began praying for the safety of our sisters at Benet Hill. It reminds me how God uses all means of prayer and how much power for good the internet and social media have.  Firefighters worked long shifts fighting the unpredictable land battle, placing their lives at risk each day. Those with land for horse, llamas and other large farm animals served as temporary shelters for those who’s homes were threatened. Calls for gatorade and water for firefighters produced such a huge response that they had to ask people to cease and switch to snacks. All of these acts, and so many more provided hope and showed the love of community and our common bond that surpasses politics and religion.

About WalkingwithBenedict

I love how scripture comes alive with messages for our lives today. In praying with scripture, we are called into deeper relationship with God and others. We are called to the growth in love, hospitality, peace, humility, stewardship and hope. St Benedict's Rule provides a lens for how scripture can be lived in our lives today whether we live inside or outside a monastery.
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8 Responses to The Black Forest Fire:

  1. Renee says:

    Thank you for this in depth look at not only the fires, but the results. Thank God it wasn’t worse, and prayers are still needed for those who did lose a home or other. Thank you Gail !


  2. Gina says:

    Thanks, Gail for the comments and insights. I have been working at home all week as the smoke is cleaned form my office and I really appreciate the gift of being around others during the day. God gives us these opportunities to see from a different angle. I am so grateful. Thank you also for the inspiring, prayerful video “On Eagles Wings”. I really enjoyed it!


  3. This is beautiful written/ prayed/ reflection. I love the Isaiah quote. One of our music ministers lost his house entirely on the first day. They remain hopeful and positive in all this turmoil. It’s the support of church family and friends and their solid faith that’s their foundation. A role model to those who know them. Continue to keep Angie and Joe Hill in your thoughts and prayers. He’s one of our guitarists at the 9:30 mass.


    • Will do…. I will ask the Sisters to add Angie and Joe Hill to the prayer list at Benet Hill. The Isaiah quote has followed me for almost 4 decades now. I can remember hearing it played at a particularly tough time in my life when I was in High School, and feeling a tangible sense of the divine presence.


  4. Barbara says:

    My experience on that Tuesday was somewhat similar. I left the monastery at 12 that day for a standing 1:15 app’t on the west side. During my app’t we talked about the heat of the day, and trying to remember the date of the Waldo Canyon fire. As I left my app’t towards home, I saw the huge plume of smoke, and although it was too far away to tell exactly where the fire was, it was clear that it was the result of fire. By the time I got home, TV local news coverage was continuous.

    Later in the week as the authorities began to list the evacuation areas and list the addresses of those with homes damaged or destroyed, I watched with the address directory of the Benet Hill oblates close at hand as well as the address of my aunt and uncle who moved into that area just 2 months ago, less than 2 miles from Benet Hill! As it turned out, one oblate lost her home as did everyone on her street. Another’s home was not damaged.

    In the meantime, my doctor told me that patients of hers who lived in the Mountain Shadows area last year, but whose homes were not destroyed, now a year later are very sick from the toxins in the air and soil, and inside their houses.

    One very strange thing was that a week before the fire one of the sisters asked me in the library how the Black Forest was formed — were the trees planted? or what conditions led to its formation? What I learned in researching an answer was that the forest was known as early as the explorations of the Louisiana Purchase, and that it was a lumber source in the late 19th and early 20th century. I could find no record of any large forest fire for all that time.

    Each day I was grateful for the safety of those I know and care about, grateful for the fire fighters, and grateful for the generosity of our community towards the evacuees and those who lost their homes. I was also reminded how important it is to be prepared when we live and work near the natural beauty we so treasure here.


    • Thanks Barb for sharing. As more Colorado wildfires rage, these themes you mention of prayer, preparation and restoration are so key it seems. As I write from Indiana, where flooding dominates, I realize these same themes apply. How odd it has been to be transported so quickly from one landscape and natural disaster to another! It strikes me how scripture carries these same themes. In the Old Testament we hear over and over again about communities being exiled, (evacuated?) and returning to the challenges of restoration. Things are not entirely the same upon return, nor entirely different. And what difference, if any, does it make if the exile or evacuation is caused by warring factions or natural causes? Life is initially lived on the threshold. In some parts of the world, the transition away from what was, to what will be, is lifelong. Our comfort? “And the Word became flesh, and pitched his tent in our midst.” (John 1:14) Thank God!


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