As the video rolls over the debris of a house that once echoed with joy and laughter, footsteps can be heard crushing the floor laden with broken bricks, concrete, wood, and a breathless voice can be heard saying, “It’s was the fireplace.” A few steps later, “It’s the bikes…the bikes are all gone.”
After that, the most poignant words run through the tragedy of Dec. 30, 2021, on New Year’s Eve after the Colorado fires tore through more than a thousand homes as it tore through town near Denver where the family Desai owned a house.
“All the memories, the photographs, the years of everything…gone…toast. Well… happy new year! said the voice sarcastically.
The video, posted to YouTube just days ago, is on a GoFundMe site that calls on everyone to “help them rebuild their world”.
“1,000 houses burned down and ours was one of them. It was the worst fire they had seen in Colorado, I believe. We are absolutely devastated,” Nilam Desai told the News India Times via email on January 16, 2022.
Frustrated by questions about whether more American Indians have been affected, Desai says: “While our whole house is destroyed and we haven’t had a second to think of anything but the million urgent things to take care of from morning till night since the fire, honestly, I have no idea who was specifically affected.
Scrolling through local media reports, I can’t find any Indian names among those interviewed in the days following the devastation, the one who saw President Biden visit Colorado to offer condolences to the victims and point to climate change as the biggest contributor.
This was attested to by Desai, who noted that there were “no reports of us in the local media as I haven’t spoken to anyone”. But a French television reporter spoke to him the next day and their name appeared in a European media outlet, alerting friends as far afield as Saudi Arabia who recognized Desai and his daughter.
Now known as the Marshall Fire or Middle Fork Fire, which within minutes swept through Boulder County, north of Denver, wiping out homes with its high-licking flames, in the cities of Louisville and Superior, lasting at less than half a day and leaving houses brooding like those of Desai and his family. It was followed by a snowfall the following day which helped put out the fires, but not before destroying the homes of Desai, his friends and his community.
“We’ve been very busy from early morning until dark,” says Desai, director of the Free To Be Coalition, which aims to promote freedom of expression and intellectual diversity on college campuses.
The GoFundMe website is short. But it embodies the deepest feelings of loss in the face of natural disasters or man-made calamities.
Desai, who last September wrote a moving tribute to those who died on 9/11, published in News India Times, “Amnesia 9-1-1: Is Forgetting the Lessons of the Past a Common Thread in the American Consciousness ? experienced this tragedy while working at the World Financial Center adjacent to the World Trade Center towers where she lost some of those she knew. “Most of us in the tri-state area knew someone, or someone who knew someone, who perished that day,” Desai wrote at the time.
Fortunately, this second tragedy left only one dead and one person missing. And Desai’s family was saved like the more than 35,000 people who evacuated the communities hardest hit by the devastating blazes.
Writing about 9/11 last year, Desai prophetically asked, “Could I ever imagine a future time or event that could be more gruesome than what I witnessed on that day twenty years, September 11…?
Another Indian-American family who escaped with just the clothes on their backs are that of Sharanya and Debanjan (no last name), reveals a GoFundMe page created by their friend Nilanjan Mukherjee (gofundme.com/lets-clear- the-smoke ).
Sharanya & Debanjan started a new life in Colorado when they moved there in 2019, and over the past few years, despite the obstacles posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, they finally managed to get their “ home” in November 2021, with their toddler Shahana, just weeks before the Marshall fire.
At the same time, Shahana’s grandparents finally traveled to America to see their granddaughter.
“When everything seemed to finally come together, it all fell apart without notice,” the fundraising site explains.
Luckily, the story has a somewhat happy ending where the couple, their child, and their parents managed to escape the 15 minutes given to escape the fires that burned down their new home.
“We are grateful that there were no injuries or casualties, but there is no price that can be named for the multiple memories, events and feelings collected and preserved over more than 30 years,” notes l organizer of gofundme, which raised $51,528 in donations large and small, slightly exceeding the $50,000 goal.
Among the many GofundMe sites verified to help victims is also one named “Loving Up Karma & Dafuti Sherpa”, a Tibetan couple who, according to the site, “have spent their whole lives working to relieve the suffering of others in distress, both near and far”, and urging donors to step in because “it is our turn now”.
With just their clothes on their backs and a few minutes to spare, “Karma, Dafuti, Sonam and little Sonia fled their home under the teeth of smoke and withering flames from the Marshal’s fire on 12/30/21. Luckily, Karma’s quick and decisive action saved their lives and their car, but with absolutely no time to consider the belongings, it seems their house and every item they own is a total loss. Imagine fleeing our smoky homes with our kids and nothing more than a credit card. Never coming back,” says the GoFundMe site which has already raised $32,505, above the $32,000 goal, as of January 17, 2022. .
The stories of Desai, Sheranya & Debanjan as well as Karma & Dafuti have been repeated hundreds of times since that fateful day, December 30, 2021.
(These stories may have been missed by other American Indians affected by the fires. Please contact [email protected] for any additional information)