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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

Colorado forest fires have become a devastating marker of summer

The blood red setting sun shrouded by smoky haze captured my attention as I walked by Kountze Lake in Belmar Park a few days ago. Combined with the sharp taste of acidic air, my mind immediately traveled back to 2002.

Nearly two decades removed from the moment, I still remember driving along the eastbound 6th Avenue ramp onto northbound I-25 and marveling at the transformation smoke from the Hayman fire caused to the city.

Thick ash smothered the overhead sun’s radiant light and created an otherworldly sensation as though I were trapped on a distant planet in a science-fiction movie. Looking back to the Denver skyline did not help.

Brown haze blurred the typically sharp lines of skyscrapers in the distance, a shimmering illusion that transformed the vibrant city into something bordering on post-apocalyptic. The distinctive cash register profile of the Wells Fargo Center seemed misshapen and melted.

Swiveling my sightline westward as I reached the onramp’s zenith, the mountains suffered similarly. The towering peaks covered in a suffocating smoke blanket were stripped of their grandeur. The jagged lines that cut into the sky muted by bent rays of light and transfigured into rounded crests compressed by the weight of the air hanging above them.

Though he later caught criticism for the comment, what I saw in that instant seemed to align with former Gov. Bill Owens’ off-cuff declaration that, “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning today.”

My Proustian memory came courtesy of the four forest fires currently raging across the state. Burning near Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, Fort Collins and Fraser, Owens’ figurative assessment could now seem a little prescient.

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