High Park Fire, 1

posted in: Current Affairs, Serendipity | 16

I had a great weekend at the Estes Park Wool Market, which I'll write about soon, but at the moment am somewhat obsessed with the High Park Fire, currently burning in Larimer County, Colorado, where I live. We thought the recent Hewlett Fire, started in mid-May, was bad. It was, and while contained it is still burning. (The first date I pick up for newspaper notifications is May 14.) On June 4, the Stuart Hole Fire got going. And on June 6, the Camman Fire. Now we have the High Park Fire.

Let me tell you a little about it and why it's got my attention.

Saturday

When I went to pick up a friend to go to the wool market on Saturday morning, I saw a plume of smoke on the horizon and thought, "Uh oh."

Saturday, 10:20 a.m., from Fort Collins

Fire-Satam-1024a_7770

By my quick eyeballed estimate, Estes Park is about 25 miles, as the crow flies, southwest of Horsetooth Reservoir, a landmark that I can use to mark the lower part of the fire-evacuation area. From Estes Park, this is what that plume looked like about 2.5 hours later.

Saturday, 1 p.m., from Estes Park

Fire-Satpm-1p_7780

When they say it's a fast-growing fire, that's what they mean.

When I got home, this is what the fire looked like from our neighborhood.

Saturday, 5:50 p.m., from Fort Collins (from our back deck)

Fire-Satpm-550p_7803

Saturday evening, as we walked the dogs, this is what the fire looked like from our neighborhood.

Saturday, 8 p.m., from Fort Collins

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That's the view across the park about a block from our house, looking northwest.

Sunday

On Sunday, I was at the wool market again, working (had a great time, except for the worrisome views to the north). We left the house at 7:45 a.m. Throughout the morning, from both Fort Collins and Estes Park, the smoke was a haze across the horizon (and at home, there was ash on the newspaper and all over the cars in the driveway).

By afternoon, the wind patterns, and possibly fire behavior, changed so the smoke was again dramatically visible.

Sunday, 3:20 p.m., from Estes Park

Fire-Sunpm-320p-FromEstes_0424

I got home about 5:30, had a bite to eat, and then we took the dogs for a walk. The color in the next two photos, taken from our neighborhood, is from the sunset. It's gorgeous, and extremely eerie. The photos are looking to the northwest, although we could also see evidence of fire directly to the west.

Sunday, 7:15 p.m., from Fort Collins

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Sunday, 7:18 p.m., from Fort Collins

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I didn't intend to get my daughter in that photo, but there she is. The dogs, of course, are out of the frame.

Overview

I have, of course, been reading information online. The best official sources I have found are the Larimer County emergency notifications and the Inciweb reports (note that to see the full extent of the fire perimeter on the maps, you will now have to reposition the view). The best news source I have located is KUNC, which is not broadcasting over its 91.5FM frequency because the transmission tower has been knocked out by the fire but is providing web feeds and excellent online summaries (succinct overviews, understandable, current, and accurate—as gauged by the county and Inciweb reports). KUNC also offers selected links to other coverage. [Edited to add that KUNC has some alternate broadcasting arrangements now in place on 91.5FM, with limited reach: but the signal exists!]

Reading all the road closures felt like a patchwork, so I took out an old county map to get a sense of the evacuation area. I'm really visual. This shows the whole county, which is large: 2634 square miles (6822 km2). The evacuation area is within the pink flags. Some sections have been evacuated because the fire threatens to cut off all escape routes. The gridded area on the right is the city of Fort Collins. Road closures begin 1.5 miles west of our house.

We're okay, although we have to keep our windows firmly closed. It's stuffy in the house, but that's not something to complain about.

Fire-Sunpm-evacmap_7917

The latest report on the fire area itself includes 36,930 acres, or just under 58 square miles—probably more than that by now, because the fire is growing, with 0% containment. The best information on extent appears to come after evening infrared assessments from the air. (The city of Denver covers 155 square miles; Boulder covers 25 square miles; thanks to KUNC for those numbers. Fort Collins covers somewhere between 47 and 53 square miles, depending on what you count. The city's website doesn't seem to have information on its area.)

Because fires are erratic and unpredictable in their behavior, I am hoping for the survival of the 17 wolves that could not be evacuated from the W.O.L.F. Sanctuary. They have newly constructed, but of course untested, fire dens. Thirteen wolves have been removed from the sanctuary. (The best information on the situation at W.O.L.F. I have found is on the WOLF Sanctuary Facebook page.) Several of these wolves provided fiber for The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. The intelligence and dedication of the people who run this sanctuary are exemplary, as is the difficulty of the work they do.

I am also hoping for the survival of other animals that have not been able to be removed from the area, and for all humans who have gotten caught in this mess. Humans are easier to move out than livestock or wild animals.

Beyond all that, some of my favorite landscapes in this entire region are going up in flames.

Drought + beetle-kill trees as fuel + heat (90°+F on Saturday) + wind + a spark = inferno.

The suspected immediate cause is lightning, although there are deeper causes that have produced the drought and beetle-kill and changing weather patterns.

The note I am holding in mind from the just-issued county report (11:17 a.m.) is this one: "There are many unburned areas within the perimeter of the fire, so residents should not assume their homes are damaged or destroyed."

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16 Responses

  1. Good summary. You had a few more facts than what I had come across in my casual reading. PSD cancelled activities today due to air quality. Be careful not to spend too much time outside with the dogs. It was hard keeping the boys cooped up, and in some ways silly as the air quality within our house is also diminished. Still, I figure it is better than being exposed full on outdoors.

  2. I’ve been watching the updates closely too – Yesterday we helped evacuate the friends whose house we house-sit up by the reservoir. At about 6:30 pm you couldn’t see the far end of the reservoir due to smoke. Thankfully Bodhi (cat with a – flavorful – personality who was part of last nights evac) is doing well cooped up in the guest room. It makes me grateful to be on the east side of town – even still we’re getting ash-fall.

  3. Amanda, we took the dogs for the no-frills walk that accomplishes all the necessary tasks. My daughter will be riding her bike with a mask on (as she did yesterday).

    Aramati, I’m glad you’re able to offer refuge. Me, I’m glad to hear yet another helicopter overhead: another drop underway. From the 1970s, I have not previously had good feelings about low-flying helicopters. These fires are changing that old pattern of mine.

  4. WAY too close for comfort! Sending good thoughts for EVERYONE.

  5. I’ve been consumed with information about the fire too. We have a very good view of the full plume from our living room.

  6. Argh! So unsettling!

  7. We live somewhat remotely in the Santa Cruz Mountains of CA and have the same fears every summer. Although it is worth it to live here, we are always ready to leave if we need to. My thoughts are with all of you who live in similar situations.

  8. Yikes. I don’t think tomorrow’s predicted weather is going to help much. it’s cool and wet here in the PNW, and I imagine flying home tomorrow evening we’ll get a pretty spectacular view of the fire. I wish I could bring rain with me, but I’m afraid this is our year of confronting the triple-threat of drought/global climate change/fuels build-up. Stay as cool as you can and as out of the smoke as you can.

  9. I’ve been thinking about you every time Ft Collins and fire is in the radio broadcast. Glad to know you are alright.

    It all sounds so scary…in the specific and generally for the future

  10. So scary and sad…hope everything is under control soon and the air quality improves.

    Also wanted to compliment you on the great article in the current Spin Off.

  11. Thanks to everyone for your comments and concern. We could see active flames from the nearby major intersection last night, although we are at very small risk personally. We have open invitations out to friends and their animals to come here, and we also *have* an open invitation to move farther east, with animals, if it comes to that–smoke being our biggest likely problem.

    Susan, it’s hard to see the effects of global climate change so close. It was also hard to have to drive the car yesterday morning instead of doing my anti-climate-change thing of taking the bike–because the air wasn’t breathable for biking.

    Valerie, I’m glad you enjoyed the article in the new Spin-Off. On pp. 57 and 59, the word “opossum” should be (and was) “possum.” There will be a correction letter in the next issue {wry grin}.

  12. Thanks for keeping us up to date, this is quite a fire! I saw pictures on the news of people who’ve been evacuated coming back every couple of hours to run sprinklers and wet down everything around their houses.

  13. Most evacuees can't get back in once they're out–both because of the danger to them and because they need to stay *out of the way* of the firefighters. Roads are closed. 

    But the helicopters are dumping water from the reservoirs onto the houses. I'm guessing some folks who are on pre-evac (i.e., have gotten out before it's mandatory) might be going back.

    Rescue crews also have been going in, whenever possible, to retrieve animals that have had to be left behind by evacuees. I heard a lovely success story about that this morning: specific animals I'd been worried about since Saturday are safe (although the fire was very close to them).

  14. My mother and sister found a story in their local newspapers (microfilm) about major forest fire in the late 1800s… at the site of the later Hayman burn.

    I grew up playing in that area and had no clue that 70 or so yrs before it was devastated.

    I hold on to that image.

    Saw you at EP – sheep shearing. Looks like you enjoyed your work!

  15. My thoughts are with you that you and those in your community. I can not imagine how scary this is.

  16. Freyalyn

    Utterly terrifying. I’m finding this fascinating because we have nothing like this in the UK (I’ve had moor fires nearby me, but they never threaten property and livestock like this). Thank you for such an informative post.

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