Colorado 2012: Quiet on the Fourth of July

Until yesterday, the Fourth of July, those of us in Denver have watched the Colorado wildfires like most of the country, on the television and through photos posted on youtube. But as Independence Day approached, our fireworks events were getting cancelled one by one. We heard every night on the news that a new country club or township had voted to forego in deference to those losing their homes — or wondering if they’d lost them — across the State. The decisions were also safety precautions due to a very dry, hot summer here.

And then early in the afternoon of the 4th, an eerie haze blanketed our city. You could tell the sun was shining above it. Cell phones started ringing. Neighbors started stopping each other. “Is there a storm coming?” “Is there a new fire? Is it close?”

It turned out to be smoke from wildfires in Wyoming, pushed down by a change in the atmosphere as it blew across Colorado. There were weather advisories, warnings not to exercise outside – a tough recommendation for the thousands who planned to spend the day on a long run, a day hike or a bike ride with the family.

Our annual neighborhood bike parade, where a band plays patriotic music, moms sell popsicles, and too many kids circle up and down a single street with their bikes decorated in red, white and blue. But the firetruck that hoses them all down at the end arrived late after many of us had departed due to the heat. We still had fun. It just reminded us that all was not quite normal.

American flags were out. Our family read the Declaration of Independence and research facts about it on the Internet, with the most memorable fact being the reason that John Hancock signed his name in such large letters – he didn’t want the King to have to wear his spectacles to read it.

Our pool threw a big party with face painting, a bouncy castle, free cotton candy and snow cones, and an inflatable slide into the deep end. Again, we had fun.

But when the sun set, it was quiet. No neighborhood kids racing up and down the block with sparklers. No bottlecaps going off in the alley. And when we went to sleep at our usual time, the skies were silent too. No distant fireworks seen or heard. A strange peace… until morning when the birds were singing, the sprinkler systems were turning on one by one, firemen around the State had turned the tide against most of the wildfires, and the sky was blue again.

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