This evening, as I was checking the local news for tomorrow’s weather, images of the Colorado wildfires blinked across the TV screen. My son looked up when I gasped, asking me, “Mommy! What is that? Is it a movie?”
“No,” I said, “It is not a movie. There are some very bad forest fires in Colorado right now – not where your aunt and uncle live, but near another city.”
“Are people’s homes on fire?”
I knew that fear drove my son to ask this – he has struggled with some anxiety, particularly in regard to house fires, so I knew that I needed to proceed very carefully with the answer.
“Yes, honey. Some homes that are near the forest that is on fire did burn down. But before that happened, police and firefighters went to every neighborhood to make sure that the people were out of their homes so that they weren’t hurt.”
“Like they did with the flood?”
He is referencing the 2008 Eastern Iowa floods, which he cannot really remember (he was three in 2008), but about which he has seen pictures and stories. We told him as we explained how the waters were rising, police and the news were giving warnings to evacuate.
Understanding natural disaster as a child is a terribly complex thing because their focus is so narrow yet they want to know that their home and the homes of people they love are safe. My seven-year-old doesn’t quite comprehend the impact to a community and I’m not exactly sure how to explain that to him. He is also fearful that a wildfire could happen here.
I said, “Well, Iowa hasn’t had as much rain as the plants need yet this summer, so that is why our grass is dry and scratchy. When there isn’t enough rain and water in the ground, it is called a drought. We might be having a drought. Dry plants catch fire very easily. It is possible that there could be a wildfire here, but not probable. Does that make sense?”
“No, not at all.”
“There could be a fire if it gets drier and there is a spark that sets the grass or trees on fire. This is why we won’t be doing sparklers or bottle rockets or snakes on the Fourth of July. We don’t want to accidentally start a fire.”
I can see that he is uneasy with my inability to say that there won’t be a fire for sure. But, truthfully, I can’t.
I suggested, “Well, we need some rain. How about we do a rain dance to see if the gods will send some rain?”
“Mom, I don’t believe in rain gods… awkward…” he grinned.
Then I told him all of the ways we could do our best to make sure we didn’t accidentally start a fire. We don’t play with matches. We don’t let things get too hot. We don’t smoke and, therefore, have no smoldering refuse in the house/car/street/etc. If we decide to have a bonfire, we would do it on a night where there was little to no wind. And we would have the hose charged and ready to put out stray embers that dared to flare. But mostly we just need to pay attention to what is going on around us. If we see smoke, call 911. Better to have a false alarm than to regret not making a call later.
I’m not sure that this discussion alleviated any of his concerns, and I’m not sure they should be alleviated. We should be concerned about drought conditions and fires. We should be concerned about people in Colorado Springs. Things that happen far away impact all of us; they impact our home, the Earth.