By Chris Wheeler
Sorry. There is no other way to describe the feeling of seeing your city in flames.
Watching the Marshall Fire burn on Thursday in Louisville and Superior was like watching a tornado idle. Hell’s devastating powers were coldly blind and haunting.
All of us who call these places home could helplessly look and wonder, “Has my house been destroyed? “
Louisville and Superior are two of Colorado’s most unique communities. Both were born in the 1870s from the coal mines that supplied fuel to the growing cities of Boulder and Denver. Many of those who settled in Louisville and Superior were immigrants from Italy, France, and other European nations.
They came in search of the American dream. Despite persistent poverty, labor disputes and racial discrimination, they built a community. The difficulties encountered by the first settlers forged an unwavering determination that is evident among residents today. Descendants of former miners still live in Louisville and Superior. The annual Labor Day Parade in downtown Louisville honors their legacy.
Despite the enormous growth along the Front Range, Louisville and Superior have been able to retain their small town character. Living in downtown Louisville is more like living in a small Midwestern town than in the middle of a huge metropolitan area.
There is a civic pride and community here that is hard to match – or to explain. When COVID-19 hit our city two years ago, residents quickly supported the stricken businesses in downtown Louisville. Many would buy gift cards knowing they would never use them. A resident left a tip of $ 1,000 for a takeout order at a restaurant in downtown Louisville.
It’s the random acts of kindness that seem to happen every day in Louisville. Over the past year, residents have come together to support Black Lives Matters and have held seminars to educate townspeople about Native American heritage in Boulder County. Caring for others isn’t just lip service here. Residents regularly turn their concerns into action.
The people of Louisville and Superior are usually on the front line to help others when needed. Now it is the people of these cities who will need help.
The morning light will reveal unimaginable horrors. A day that began with hope for a new year ended in darkness, despair and destruction. Difficult days await us.
But it is certain: the people of Louisville and Superior will rebuild themselves. Determination is in our DNA. In the ashes of our city hides a fierce pride – and a spirit – that no fire can destroy.
Chris Wheeler is a Louisville resident, photojournalist and documentary maker. His 2020 film “Coronavirus Winter: A Portrait in Black and White” told the story of the struggle of downtown Louisville merchants to keep their businesses alive in the wake of the pandemic.