Jerri Marr awoke on June 23, 2012, expecting a normal day as forest supervisor tending to issues on the Pike and San Isabel national forests west of Colorado Springs, Colo., and on the Comanche National Grassland, some 250 miles away. Not to mention the Cimarron National Grassland in southwest Kansas. That alone is enough to keep her days full.
Little did she realize that during the ensuing days, a fire presumed to be human caused in Waldo Canyon would kill two people, and leave in its path a scar of more than 18,000 acres, costing millions of dollars to fight, prompting the evacuation of 32,000 people, and destroy 346 homes. The Waldo Canyon fire has since been labeled the largest, most expensive and destructive fire in Colorado history.
Marr also didn’t expect to emerge a hero who would receive awards, commendations and international praise.
“Now I see what making a difference looks like, so it just inspires me to continue to work even harder,” Marr said. “When our community needed us, we were able to rise up and serve them in a positive way, and I’m honored and humbled and challenged by that as well.”
In the days when nearly every Colorado Springs resident stayed riveted to their televisions, Marr stood out as the voice of calm. She was one of them.
“Absolutely LOVE Her!” one person wrote in response to a story about Marr in the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I appreciated her honesty, the way she wouldn’t let the crowd railroad her. The day the fire exploded, you could see the pain in her eyes, but she kept it together, therefore we kept it together. Just truly AMAZING!”
Of course, Marr does not see herself as a hero. She simply did her job and continues to do so. Marr joined the Forest Service after earning a degree in forestry and natural resource management from the University of Tennessee.
During the Waldo Canyon fire, her leadership also meant a personal connection to as many of the 1,700 firefighters who battled the erratic blaze in steep, rugged terrain at high altitudes during unseasonably hot weather.
“I made it my goal to talk to every new firefighter that was on that incident. Every time a new crew came in, I introduced myself and I asked every one of them to remember to be safe and stay hydrated and not just let this be another fire,” said Marr.
No firefighter suffered serious injury during the blaze.
While keeping an eye on those who fought the fire, Marr knew another concern would be the children in the community. It’s one reason she started a “Smokey Cares” outreach to the kids affected by the fire. An email address was set-up for kids to write to Smokey. Smokey then sent them care packages.
Whether calming a community, protecting a firefighter or embracing kids, Marr understands her actions are part of a legacy that does not belong to her.
“We are the guardians of the American people’s national inheritance and as the guardians of their inheritance, they deserve nothing but the best,” she said. “I want to make sure I give them exactly what they are expecting from me every day.”