This Friday, June 8, will mark exactly 10 years since U.S. Forest Service worker Terry Barton lit the flame that started the largest wildfire in Colorado's history. Any such anniversary, of course, is important for posterity. But this is also a big day for the people and organizations, public and private, that have worked since then to reclaim the 200-plus square miles from ruin.
Elected officials and media from all over have been invited to the Hayman Area in the Pike National Forest to recognize and commemorate their work. As a U.S. Forest Service press release notes, a three-year-old collaboration between the National Forest Foundation and Vail Resorts has gifted the area $4 million in funds, plus a million trees planted, and nearly 17,000 acres seeded. It's called "a model for future wildlife restoration efforts around the country," with more than 100,000 volunteer hours already logged.
And yet ...
You look at these photos from Independent contributor and longtime photojournalist Sean Cayton, and you realize that while the flames are gone, and the workers once again scattered elsewhere, the scenes remain harrowing. That even 10 years later, you have to make do with more symbolism than substance: for instance, a few tiny leaves sprouting from within the shell of a tree that was so consumed by fire, its roots actually burned underground. Or new aspen trees and green grasses adding dashes of color against a landscape still overwhelmed by blacks and grays.
And then you remember one more thing, and it hits like a punch in the gut: That in a dry season like this one, another fire can kick up again at virtually any moment.