Letters to the Editor

From the week of June 20, 2002

Fanning the Flames

Hot scoop: I want to thank you for Michael Roberts's excellent article regarding the lack of media coverage during the recent outbreak of wildfires across the state ("Hot Spots," June 13).

A friend and I traveled to Glenwood Springs the weekend of June 8 and 9 and evacuated early Saturday evening after we saw the flames across I-70 from our hotel.

We were frustrated and appalled by the complete lack of information we encountered Saturday evening and all day Sunday, both on TV and radio. When we left Glenwood, it looked like the fire was sure to spread into town, and we were frightened and worried. The minute we found a room up the valley in Aspen we turned the TV on, expecting ongoing coverage or at least frequent updates. Instead, almost the only information we could find was the crawler at the bottom of the screen on Channel 9, which rarely changed over the course of the twelve or so hours we tuned in. The only thing worse than the lack of information was the inaccuracy of the information we did get.

I can only imagine how upsetting it would have been to be a resident of the Glenwood area (or a relative or loved one of someone who lives there) and have no source of up-to-date, relevant information about exactly where the fire was and who/what was in danger. It's hard to "remain calm," as the media reports advised, when you have no idea what's going on.

The local news channels never cease to remind us that "they're the ones to turn to" when they run their sensational sweeps-weeks stories, but where was the breaking news coverage when we (and others) needed it? The Denver stations were probably busy hunting down the next hot tidbit about John and Janet Elway's separation. What a disappointment -- not to mention a complete disservice to the Colorado public.

Matty Leighton
Longmont

A site for sore eyes: I, too, was frustrated by the lack of accurate coverage of the fires in Colorado, as well as the commercialization of the coverage on the media Web sites.

I have found that the most accurate and up-to-date information on the Hayman fire and other fires in the state can be found on the USDA Forest Service site http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/fire/. This site includes important and accurate information on each fire, including evacuation information, maps and images. The site is very well put together and serves its purpose well during these unfortunate emergencies. If the local media had been following the information posted on this site early on, much of the misinformation that was published could have been avoided.

Ryan Grow
Centennial

The match game: I'm not sure Michael Roberts's criticism of the coverage of the Hayman fire is warranted. I was at my parents' house for dinner on Saturday night, and while dining on the patio we had a perfect view of the smoke billowing out of the mountains. We turned on the 10 p.m. news and received the information that the fire was just north of Lake George.

Of course, the Coal Seam fire received more attention from the get-go: The fire was much closer to a large town and more easily accessible to cameras. How could anyone have predicted Hayman would grow so quickly and destroy so much forest in such a short time?

It is a shame that Hayman wasn't the number-one priority until later, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Leslie Fry
via the Internet

Fire when ready: What Michael Roberts said in "Hot Spots" was exactly what I said about Colorado Public Radio on Sunday, June 9. At 3 p.m., when I heard Theresa Schiavone say "it's smoky," I felt like calling the customer comment line and saying, "There are gays and lesbians, Jews, even ex-convicts and convicts (wrongly accused), homosexual Boy Scout leaders and people abused as children by Catholic priests who may be affected by this fire! Don't you people see how important it is?"

Ashes were a quarter-inch thick, but NPR was like a homeless person fast asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand.

John Sturtz
Denver

Breaking news: The performance of print and broadcast news outlets certainly is fair game for criticism, and Michael Roberts's assessment of the early news reports on the Hayman fire is proper enough. Understanding that the performance of the Colorado Springs news media is, at most, of marginal interest to Westword readers, I nonethless take note that Roberts's critique is aimed at "representatives of the print and electronic presses," presumably without limitation, especially since this fire is of statewide interest. As one of those representatives, I am moved to help clarify the record:

The Colorado Springs Gazette published news of the Hayman fire on page one, above the fold, in its Sunday, June 9, edition ("Two fires force evacuations northwest of Lake George"). Our reporter caught the first scanner traffic related to the fire mid-evening on Saturday and went to Lake George to get what few facts could be gathered at that moment. We also used what additional information was available from the Associated Press. The resulting story was not long, and it certainly only skimmed the factual surface of a situation that was rapidly developing, but it was timely and it was prominent.

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