This has been a trying week for folks in my neighborhood. My home was one street away from the mandatory evacuation zone during the fires in Boulder County. Homes just down the road from me were ablaze.
I was very lucky. Some of my friends weren’t.
One young couple I know were so excited to FINALLY buy their very first home — no easy feat today given the anti-growth policies that have made entry homes out of reach in the Boulder-Denver area.
They went to work one day to find there was no place which to return.
To add insult to injury, she left her wallet at home that day. She now needs to rebuild her entire legal identity. The honeymoon they planned next month is now likely a no-go. Their passports, along with every possession, are ash.
And that is just one of a thousand stories.
A tragedy on this scale guarantees national attention, emergency declarations, presidential visits and charity drives — as it should. But it should also get us thinking about the more powerful destruction from small-scale personal tragedies that have a much greater collective impact.
As I write this it looks like there might have been two fatalities from the Boulder fires. That’s two too many, of course, but a remarkably low amount for a fire that took down 1,000 structures and caused 30,000 people to flee.
By contrast, in 2020 there were 3,500 fire fatalities nationwide. That’s a lot more than were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, but since these fire deaths weren’t concentrated in one event, they don’t really register to us.
Lightning kills about 50 people per year in the U.S. (About 83% of them are male, proving only men understand the importance of playing golf in all conditions.)
The same emotional disconnect happens in travel deaths. If a commercial plane goes down, it’s big national news.
Yet in 2020, 38,680 Americans were killed in cars. There’s nearly a Vietnam War-sized body count on our roads every year and it doesn’t pull heartstrings in any communal sense.
On the bright side, be it fires, lightning, planes, cars, or just about every area of accidental death, America has never been safer.
In 1937, nearly 30 out of 100,000 people died in a traffic accident. Today, it’s less than 12. As a percentage of miles driven, it’s even better. In 1921, there were 24 deaths per million miles traveled. Today, it’s closer to 1 per million.
And, yes, government plays a big part in it.
Over the decades of my political activism, I often and rightly say, “this isn’t a core function of government” because so much of the explosive growth of government is outside of its limited roles.
So, it’s worth celebrating the core functions of government when done right and properly. Public safety would be first among them.
I’m not speaking of safety from one’s own decisions, as the progressive nanny staters would define public safety, but from criminals, foreign attack and disaster.
I have seen a lot of fires in Colorado and in Boulder County over the years, but I have never seen anything like what we just experienced.
Fires were scattered everywhere and growing seemingly exponentially. It was mind-bogglingly out of control and rapid.
And through it all, first responders and their communications teams kept us one step ahead of the roaring devastation. Boulder County’s Office of Emergency Management had an active website with close to real-time maps of the blaze, road closures and evacuation areas. Agencies seemed to be working together well. Lives were saved.
While nothing can ease the pain of those who lost all their possessions, let us recognize in this instance governments did provide their core function admirably and did so with the funding they have.
And, while the core function of public safety is failing on city streets throughout Colorado and the nation in uncelebrated small-scale tragedies — with explosions of criminal activity, smash and grabs, vagrancy, violence, and murder thanks to our leaders’ inaction and equivocation to the progressive left — let’s recognize this fire proves that public safety can be done right.
To those in government charged with public safety who saved so many in my community, thank you.
To those in government charged with public safety who are enabling an avalanche of crime on our streets, shame.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts "The Devil's Advocate with Jon Caldara" on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.