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Boulder is Burning

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

At present(Sept. 2010), we live in the city of Boulder Colorado. Twelve miles away, in the nearby mountains, a fire rages. The fire is not in the City of Boulder but is in the County of Boulder. Thus far, it has resulted in the destruction of 135 homes that people lived in for decades. While the inhabitants were evacuated and relocated in shelters or with friends and neighbors, all of them are facing the consequences of the fire: trauma, loss and grief. It’s something of a miracle that no one has lost their life or even been injured in this forest fire. It is also true that most homeowners will receive insurance reimbursement for purposes of rebuilding or relocating. However, the problem is much deeper than fire insurance and house replacement.

The survivors of this fire state, over and again, that they lost not only a house but a life time of memories, collectibles, mementos, souvenirs, photographs, computers and even businesses run out of their houses. None of these things are replaceable.  A few people who rented their homes in the region did not have rental insurance and will receive no monetary compensation for their losses. Also, in several cases, owners had gradually built and expanded their houses over many years. This was done through their own “sweat equity.” Money cannot rebuild something that has taken years to build by hand.

It will also take many years for the many trees that burned to grow back and for the natural beauty of the place to be restored.

At present, when the fire continues to rage, most of these people can admit to regret but have admitted that the real consequences have not sunken in. What they face is having to truly go through a period of mourning their losses.

Dangerous Places:

However, there is another dimension to this story that I want to focus on. It is a phenomenon that holds true in many places throughout the United States and the world. The phenomenon is that people choose to live in dangerous places. You see, the area that is burning is a well know fire zone. This is the worst but far from the only fire in or near this region of Colorado.

In a way similar to these Boulder Colorado residents, people choose to live in the flood zones of Louisiana, Mississippi and elsewhere. In Florida and elsewhere, people choose to build houses in the direct path of hurricanes. What motivates these people?

As one survivor of the Colorado fire stated, “He treasured living in the mountains, with wildlife in his backyard.” This magnificently beautiful part of the world is inhabited by bears, mountain lions and other predators that come visiting at night from time to time. Whether its Florida or elsewhere, people live in areas that they value, despite the dangers, because they love culture, beauty, history and geography of a place. That is why so many have returned to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.


The fact is that we make intimate connections not only to people but to places and things. It has been pointed out by others that relationships always pose some type of risk. There are no guarantees when falling in love with someone that it will last forever. Nevertheless, we take the risk because we want the closeness and warmth. It is also true with places and things. Neighbors, neighborhoods, treasures, and other material items become deeply important to all of us and we mourn when they are lost, just as though a life has been lost.

What the victims of the fires in Boulder County lost is a part of themselves, their psyches, their personal lives, things they hold dear and close to themselves. Lets hope they can succeed in going through the mourning process and rebuild their lives.

Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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