God's Wrath and Natural Disasters: Whom Do We Blame?
While I worked 500 miles away from my family, I got word that my dad's office and my aunt and uncle were evacuated because the Waldo Canyon fire burned closer and closer.
Eager for up-to-the-minute news on the fire and more detail than my family gave in text messages, I scanned tweets and refreshed the newspaper's website like an insomniac on caffeine, listening to scanner traffic of firefighters setting up command centers and relaying information as each home caught fire.
Tweet after tweet with the hashtag #waldocanyonfire scrolled down my screen. Hundreds more poured out every minute. Tweets ranged from helpful: the sheriff and mayor used Twitter to ask people to stay off cell phones to keep lines free for emergencies; to overly dramatic: "watching the city burn from my porch </3"; to outright misleading, information which spread through the Twittersphere when retweeted by others. A wave of tweets promoted almost certainly photoshopped photos of the inferno. Because there was no gatekeeper, information (and misinformation) could spread quickly.
Constant updates intensified my feeling of impending doom as homes and a cherished landmark burnt to the ground. It was tempting to feel as if God had deserted or forgotten Colorado Springs (though as some facetiously pointed out, it's difficult to claim God was casting judgment on the town that houses Focus on the Family, Compassion International, Summit Ministries, the Navigators, and countless other ministries).
After scrolling through every new tweet for a solid hour, it was clear that few contained helpful new information. Many were retweets of other helpful tweets, cluttering my feed with the same details. A myriad of other tweets implored celebrities to repost a tweet and "spread the word" that Colorado Springs was in danger from the fire.
Some Twitter chatter was helpful, but the medium also gave a voice to the same rubbernecking voyeurs who were clogging traffic up and down the highway in Colorado Springs that night. And sure, virtual rubbernecking is a lot less physically dangerous and distracting than physically blocking traffic to take a photo. I found a sort of mindless catharsis in retweeting fire photos and other information, but how helpful is it, really?
After about 200 dramatic tweets from various people "watching their city burn," I wondered if there wasn't a more helpful outlet for personal grief and shock than letting the world know about it. Wildfire Tees quickly launched a website selling a half-dozen new t-shirt designs to raise money for Care and Share, the Colorado Red Cross, and other fire relief funds. They found something to do to help while their city burned.