Political Animal


July 03, 2012 9:58 AM Fire and Ideology In Colorado Springs

By Ed Kilgore

The wildfire disaster in Colorado seems to be abating a bit as weather turns cooler and more humid, and may not reach the destructive levels experienced by Texas last summer. But the saga can and should call forth some reflections not only on the reality of global climate change, but on more specific problems associated with runaway development in dangerous areas, and the religious and economic viewpoints that encourage it.

At Religion Dispatches, University of Colorado historian Paul Harvey provides a close-up look at how ideology contributed to the Waldo Canyon fire disaster in Colorado Springs:

[T]he very emphasis on fire mitigation and maintenance, and reasonable regulation of development in natural fire zones—and in what they call the “wildland-urban interface”—meets resistance from a religious ethic of dominion over the earth that colludes with the libertarian free market enthusiasms of developers who skillfully sell to buyers seeking escape from the Gomorrah of urban America.
Nowhere is that more true than in Colorado Springs, which marries an activist grassroots religious conservatism, faith in (and reliance on) the military-industrial complex, and a historic western libertarian hatred of “big government”—combined with an economic reliance on big government. In a city sometimes referred to as the “Protestant Vatican” for its profusion of religiously conservative activist groups, unregulated housing developments into Wildland-Urban Interface zones have proliferated over the last generation, such that foothills and obvious fire zones boast some of the region’s most geographically attractive housing.

As Harvey notes, the same mix of religious and civic attitudes is likely to make rebuilding “bigger and better than ever” in the same fire zones a local priority. And so the cycle continues.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Emily68 on July 03, 2012 10:20 AM:

    Plus the fine folks of Colorado Springs would rather have extremely low taxes than a top-notch fire department.

  • Caffiend on July 03, 2012 10:22 AM:

    Until the insurers stop writing policies. Then it will stop. Their taste for dominion over the earth will cease when it isn't underwritten by State Farm.

  • biggerbox on July 03, 2012 10:32 AM:

    Silly secular humanists, with your social science-based explanations. Obviously, the fires are burning there because God is punishing them for their pride and heresy.

  • bleh on July 03, 2012 10:33 AM:

    Well, if the Kenyan Usurper hadn't given the entire Federal Treasury away to all his minority friends at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and HUD and HHS, and instead created an economic boom by cutting taxes for the Job Creators. then there wouldn't have been a shortage of fire-fighting equipment and none of this would have been a problem. And also probably it's God's punishment for allowing a Muslim to remain in office instead of impeaching him for treason in the gun-running scandal.

    Oh nuts, I forgot to put caps lock on...

  • Basilisc on July 03, 2012 11:05 AM:

    Create a disaster, then blame Democrats for it instead of accepting responsibility. Yep, standard right-wing procedure.

  • Don on July 03, 2012 11:13 AM:

    Hey, bleh, let's have some respect for the office...he's the Kenyan Muslim Socialist Usurper. Let's not forget that.

  • dr2chase on July 03, 2012 11:33 AM:

    The Good Lord invented prickly pear cactus, stucco, and terra-cotta tile roofs. If these guys aren't smart enough to use the holy fire-proofing tools that God gave them, they shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves in a hot place.

  • lou on July 03, 2012 11:34 AM:

    I'd argue that similar dynamics are in place all over the US, decreasing our resiliency with the coming onslaught of climate change over the broad swath, red and blue alike. The growth imperative reigns supreme.

  • T2 on July 03, 2012 11:48 AM:

    Colorado Springs is in the forefront of the "cut the government until it's gone" craziness. And of course, the first to scream "Where the hell is the government" when disaster strikes.

  • nativecoloradan on July 03, 2012 12:54 PM:

    i think this is a phenomenon (unregulated housing) that can't be tied just to colorado springs, or to the religious flavor of the city. the neighborhood where the fire really roared through had been there for decades, as had the flying w ranch. waaay before the evangelicals took over colorado springs (and they did take it over -- it wasn't like this 40 years ago). i know it's so easy to want to tie religious ideology to an event like this, but (and i speak as a liberal) i don't think one can single out colorado springs for bad land use policy.

    i await the moment when americans wake up from climate change denial though. not sure if it will come soon enough for the planet. i think it may already be too late.

    i am tired of breathing in smoke though.

  • emjayay on July 03, 2012 1:09 PM:

    nativecoloradan: You will find a key labeled shift at each end of your keyboard, one row up from the bottom. Maybe even with a little up arrow to clarify its purpose, which is to shift to capital letters, generally used for clarity in modern Engish for the first letter in a sentence or proper noun.

  • TCinLA on July 03, 2012 1:13 PM:

    I'm seriously sad to hear that the fundie's New Jerusalem won't be burned to the ground. But hearing that former Olongapo boom-boom-girl Michele Malkin lost her home is a nice consolation prize.

  • emjayay on July 03, 2012 1:48 PM:

    I thought MM's house was unfortunately OK, at least as reported in her column two days ago. Internet search didn't come up with anything new. Hope you are right TC, but I don't think so. (That's right shadenfreude.)

  • ceilidth on July 03, 2012 9:46 PM:

    Colorado Springs may be the home of the farthest right fundies, but from what I've heard on the TV reports, they have also invested a lot of time and effort in fire mitigation in those neighborhoods, including forcing people to replace their shake shingle roofs. This fire was so potent and whipped by such heavy winds that all the houses were burned in just a few hours.

  • Paul Harvey on July 05, 2012 12:35 AM:

    nativecoloradan and ceilidth, you have good points, and as a long-time resident myself I recognize them. At the worst point of the fire, it took houses in well-mitigated areas, it was just too strong. Yes, mitigation efforts have improved here in recent years. And yes, of course fire knows no ideology. My point has to do with very long-term trends of housing developments into fire zones, true in many places as well as COS, and to develop a point about ONE of MANY factors influencing those trends locally (hence my phrase "among the mix of factors"). And as a historian, by "long-term trends" I mean back from the 19th century, trends so deeply embedded as to be embedded in a national narrative. Those trends, I believe, have a long religious narrative associated with them, one too complex to be narrated in this very short article.