Westside Pioneer Home Page

EDITOR'S DESK: 'Doublethinking' legal fires by illegal campers

By Kenyon Jordan

Dec. 16, 2017
       Mid-20th century writer George Orwell had a talent for showing how language could be turned on its head.
       As an example, for his book "1984" he invented the word “doublethink," which means "the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them."
       Now we have our very own City of Colorado Springs Fire Department, blithely telling us not to worry about the random campfires we see at night - despite our knowing that those fires have been set in many cases by mentally ill people high

on drugs or alcohol; and that those flames are rising next to illegal campsites, in undesignated fire pits alongside creeks and trails and in our public open spaces.
       But that's OK, the CSFD explains in an announcement to the media Dec. 15, because the department is not only “aware” that those fires are burning but they're permitted under city law as "recreational fires."
       They're also known as “warming fires,” the press release adds. I suppose this is in case the term, “recreational fires,” isn't convincing enough. Orwell might have liked that.
       Furthermore, we're told, “there are specific guidelines which must be followed to lower the risk of a recreational fire becoming hostile.”
       Whew! That's reassuring. I was just about to speculate that risk-averse (read cowardly) city lawyers - paid with our tax dollars - had pre-emptively recommended giving in to the compassion crowd and the bullying ACLU on this issue, the way they gave in with our former panhandling ordinances two years ago.
       Silly me to worry that way, although it's hard to avoid when nearly 100 fires from homeless/transient camps have burned out of control in the past year, according to the Fire Department's own reports. And double especially that our city still bears the scars of the horrifying Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires scarcely five years ago, for which the perpetrators were never found.
       But hey, the press release states that recreational fires have “specific guidelines.” So it's all good. Just because these people are camping illegally, why should that automatically mean they're going to ignore Section 302 of the 2009 International Fire Code, which limits recreational fires to no more than 3 feet in diameter, 2 feet in height and a carefully measured 25 feet away from a “structure or combustible materials”?
       On top of that, the Fire Department tells us that the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach (HOT) Team will be out and about, making sure that the code is being followed. That's the four-member HOT Team, for the record, and they merely have 500-some illegal camps to keep track of.
       So no problem! Why should anyone be concerned?
       Plus, we can't overlook the Fire Department's confidence in us everyday folks - that we, despite our utter lack of fire training, should be able to discern the difference between a “recreational” and a “hostile” fire.
       In fact, it's “important” that we do so, the press release asserts. That way, we won't be bothering authorities by calling in every time we spot a fire in an illegal location. “As citizens of the city see fires along the creeks or open spaces within city limits, please note that these fires are not always hostile in nature and may not require a 911 response from the CSFD or CSPD,” the release gently chides us.
       We're even given guidelines on how to be junior firefighters. We citizens can call 911, we're told, “if the fire appears to be hostile and/or aggressively burning, encroaching into tents or surrounding trees/areas.”
       Funny, the press release doesn't say anything about “encroaching” into surrounding business areas or residential neighborhoods, but I assume that 911 will take those calls too.
       (As a side note, the city and its “experts” boldly declared in 2005 a five-year plan to “end homelessness.” That clearly didn't happen. Then in 2014 a 10-year plan was announced… except that the latest report shows the homeless numbers rising, not dropping. Maybe we need new experts.)
       Getting back to the Fire Department press release, it additionally urges the public to “exercise caution during a significant fire season for the western United States” and concludes with a reminder that we should all obey the “rules and regulations pertaining to any type of outside burning.”
       So thank you, Fire Department, I feel a lot better now, and it's good to know the proper decorum should any of us decide to camp out sometime - perhaps on the public parkway in front of the city attorney's house, where the cold weather could necessitate a “warming fire.”
       Somehow I think Orwell would find that amusing.

(Opinion: Editor's Desk)

       Kenyon Jordan is the editor of the Westside Pioneer. (Note: See the Westside Pioneer article with the full city announcement on warming fires at this link.)

       Would you like to respond to this column? The Westside Pioneer welcomes letters at editor@westsidepioneer.com. (Click here for letter-writing criteria.)