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New Year’s Gratitude on the Occasion of the Marshall Fire

Summary:
It is said that, on average, Olympic winners of a bronze medal feel happier than winners of a silver medal. For a bronze medal, the salient alternative is no medal at all, while for a silver medal, the salient alternative is a gold medal. Our house in Superior is in the subdivision just south of the southeast end of the Marshall Fire that has raged in Superior and Louisville Colorado the last few days. Valiant efforts of firefighters to contain the fire mostly kept it from reaching as far as our house. And finally snow has put an end to the fire. My heart goes out to all the people who did lose their homes. And I

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New Year's Gratitude on the Occasion of the Marshall Fire

It is said that, on average, Olympic winners of a bronze medal feel happier than winners of a silver medal. For a bronze medal, the salient alternative is no medal at all, while for a silver medal, the salient alternative is a gold medal.

Our house in Superior is in the subdivision just south of the southeast end of the Marshall Fire that has raged in Superior and Louisville Colorado the last few days. Valiant efforts of firefighters to contain the fire mostly kept it from reaching as far as our house. And finally snow has put an end to the fire. My heart goes out to all the people who did lose their homes. And I know that we could easily have been among them had the wind pushed the fire a little further south to our home instead of pushing the fire almost due east.

We have felt no grumpiness at all about having to evacuate to a comfortable Hampton Inn in Lakewood (west of Denver and east of Golden, quite a bit south of the fire), because we feel so lucky that our house is still standing and intact, unlike the houses of so many of our fellow citizens of Superior and its twin city of Louisville.

Because the snow would have made driving dangerous from our distance, we have not yet seen our house again. Our wonderful next-door neighbor Bob went in to turn the water off and run what was then left in the pipes out in order to avoid frozen pipes.

Our son Jordan and his fiancee evacuated with us to Lakewood. We are enjoying their company here instead of in Superior. It is mostly safe to go back, but we might hold off a while from concern over all the exotic chemicals that burning buildings would have put into the air.

I usually read the news rather than watching it, but yesterday morning and the night before that I spent a lot of time watching the news trying to learn exactly how far the fire would go. One scene memorable to me had the Safeway we shop at on Coalton road in the foreground with giant flames a few blocks behind. In the end, the fire came right up to the strip mall that Safeway is in. Now I am grateful to be worrying about what other places we usually shop at still stand or how soon they can be repaired instead of worrying about all the many idiosyncratic useful things about our house or things in our house.

For the community as a whole, there is great reason to be grateful that no one lost their life as a result of this fire. With a few horrible exceptions, insurance will spread out the financial losses over tens of millions of people around the country who have an ownership interest in insurance companies (often the policy-holders themselves). But a lot of the emotional and time burden of rebuilding and replacing what was lost falls on the residents of the destroyed houses and workers in the destroyed commercial buildings. That is a heavy burden my wife Gail and I had reason to contemplate, but are spared. We will try to be conscious of that burden on others in our town that we interact with in the coming months and years. We will be reminded of that burden for a long time by the long tail of visible effects of the fire.

Update, January 3, 2022: The fire began on Thursday, January 30. On Friday, January 31, our neighbor turned off our water to avoid ice damage to the pipes and in the process verified our house was fine. On Saturday, New Year’s Day, Gail and I returned to a cold house because we knew we had to be present to let the natural gas people in to restart our gas. Fortunately, we did have electricity and could use electric heaters. I took a walk as far as Coalton road and saw the destroyed houses in the front row facing Coalton from the north. Our neighborhood south of Coalton was spared. On Sunday, January 2, we did get our gas restored and learned that it would be a loooooong time before those who have intact houses in blasted neighborhoods will be able to have gas restored because of the damage to the gas infrastructure in those neighborhoods. Today, Monday, January 3, we had internet access restored. (Before that, cellular was iffy enough we mostly couldn’t get phone-based wifi hotspots to work.) We are very grateful that personally we now only face a “boil water” advisory and wondering which of the businesses we patronize are now gone or how long they will be offline for repairs. The more relieved we are about our personal situation, the sadder we feel for everyone who has suffered more grievous harm.

Today was a beautiful sunny day. I went on a walk and saw neighbors talking to each other on the street—something I haven’t seen on my many previous walks. Those who have been through a tragedy together can bond over that tragedy.

Update, January 6, 2022: Our tap water was declared safe without boiling today. Maps have come out showing where homes were destroyed or damaged. It is saddening.

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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