A magazine’s monthly deadline is an ever-present reminder that time is life’s greatest luxury. For many of us at 5280, it’s easy to think of that in negative terms—with only a little more time, imagine what we might accomplish!
Senior staff writer Robert Sanchez doesn’t look at things that way. Sanchez joined 5280 in 2007 after successful stints as a reporter at both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. Since then, he’s written 15 major feature articles for the magazine, including his latest effort, “The Fire Next Door,” which begins on page 90.
Fifteen pieces in four years is a prodigious output for any magazine writer, but Robert is quick to remind us that he sometimes wrote that many stories in a month during his newspaper days. Magazine stories, of course, are usually much longer than newspaper articles; “The Fire Next Door” weighs in at about 7,500 words. By comparison, the lead story in today’s Post is probably no more than 900 words. But length is only the most obvious difference. Far and away, what magazines benefit the most from is the luxury of time.
In reporting this month’s story, Robert spent six weeks in Boulder’s charred Fourmile Canyon, which last September was ravaged by the worst wildfire in Colorado history. All told, 169 homes were destroyed, and even those that were spared are now surrounded by 6,200 acres of blackened forest. Over the next few months, he wove dozens of interviews with firefighters and residents into four distinct, yet interconnected, story lines.
Ironically enough, one of the touchstones that dominates this compelling story is time itself. “So many of the people I talked to only had a few hours, and sometimes just a few minutes, to make momentous decisions,” Sanchez says. “Do we stay? Do we evacuate? What do we take with us? These universal themes of time, survival, love, loss: Even if you’ve never been in a wildfire, even if you’ve never had to decide what you wanted to save from your home in a matter of minutes, it seems like everyone can connect with those notions and empathize with the people who were affected by this tragedy.”