High Park Fire, 6

posted in: Current Affairs | 1

No photos today, unless I can think of something, like maybe a picture of the rain in Seattle, hoping it'll give the clouds in Colorado a hint about what they're supposed to do, if at all possible.

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Meanwhile, I'm learning more about fire-fighting.

Crews work 14 days on and then get 2 days off. That includes incident commanders, so Bill Hahnenberg, who has been on the High Park Fire since it got big enough to warrant a Type 1 command, gets to rest for a couple of days before he's sent out to another fire (there are plenty of other fires around this year that need him). Beth Lund shadowed him for a day to get up to speed and took over at 2000 last night (which I convert to 8 p.m. MDT, but check my math, please: moving fast around here).

Type 1 teams are the most experienced, and are called in on the most serious fires. Here's some explanation of the acronyms used (IMT is Incident Management Team, for example), from Prescott, Arizona. And here's the IMT Center website, with a list of all the teams and their levels. There's a long list of teams, ranging from Type 4 to Type 1, that are called in to help when local resources need reinforcements.

Today's active fire map shows 38 of what are called large incidents burning, of which 3 have Type 1 teams assigned to them: High Park and Waldo Canyon, both in Colorado, and Bear Creek #4 in Alaska. (A large incident is defined as "A wildfire of 100 acres or more occuring in timber, or a wildfire of 300 acres or more occuring in grass/sage.")

Bill Hahnenberg's team is Rocky Mountain IMT1. Beth Lund's team is Great Basin IMT1-Lund (there are two Great Basin IMT1 teams, so they are distinguished by the commander's name). There are a handful of women as commanders; most are men.

Over the past few days, our county alone—Larimer County, Colorado—has had three wildfires burning, although two of those, the Halligan Fire and the Woodland Heights Fire, were not "large incidents" and were expected to be 100% contained by this morning. The Woodland Heights Fire, in Estes Park near Rocky Mountain National Park, was very small in comparison to the High Park Fire, reaching only 27.3 acres, yet nonetheless destroyed 22 homes and 2 outbuildings.

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Back to the High Park Fire, with a few things I'm learning:

  • It is currently at 87,250 acres (136 square miles).
  • Last night, firefighters held the northern line, despite 43 m.p.h. gusts of wind.
  • With the recent jump of fire over the Poudre River (the blast that took out the home and barn, and everything else, belonging to the friends who have been staying with us), estimated containment date has been moved from mid-July to July 30.
  • "Trees and grass remain as dry as they ever have been during the fire, and mosses and lichens are burning on granite rock." (From Inciweb.)
  • "Licensed river guides will transport a few crews across the Poudre Canyon by raft, using flotation devices, so firefighters can mop-up in otherwise inaccessible areas." (Also from Inciweb.)
  • The RAMS equipment that was brought in on Saturday is not only able to do infrared assessment of areas of heat during daylight hours (the regular equipment is limited to nighttime assessment) but can also distinguish between different types of heat sources: open flame, smoldering, buried, or diminishing heat. (From the Larimer County Emergency Information system.)

The afternoons and evenings still have Red Flag Warnings in place, for potential high fire activity: dry weather, high temperatures, and wind. Tuesday, today, is the sixth Red Flag day in a row.

So far, the count of homes lost is 257. A full count has not been completed because it's too dangerous in many areas and energy is going into keeping the fire from spreading, rather than inventorying where it's been. We have a lot of displaced people and animals around Fort Collins. There are thousands of people evacuated, and they are bunking in all available spaces outside the fire region, sometimes moving from one place to another from day to day, as open spots shift.

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Staying current with fire information requires checking both Inciweb and the Larimer County site, which update at different times. A few people are being allowed to return to their homes, although still with the awareness that they may need to re-evacuate on a moment's notice (as our friends had to).

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Some good news

Many people here are both affected by the fire and working on it, including reporters, and volunteer firefighters, and many others.

Animal rescue is ongoing. A few stories of that:

Finding spaces for all the animals has been a challenge. The humane society has been sheltering more than 500, from cats to a peacock. There's overflow being housed at the vet school. Many others are with friends and family. The friends who have been with us have found places to move their llamas (since their house and barn were confirmed as destroyed, temporary housing will no longer suffice for the large animals). We still have two of their dogs (and they get along great with ours).

Meanwhile, a friend in Scotland sent information on a horrific fire he lived through in France in 1989. The website is in French, and my French has become very rusty, but one phrase especially struck me as characteristic of what's happening around the High Park Fire, and that we need to encourage by recognizing the individuals both affected by and working to diminish the damage caused by this inferno: "un élan de solidarité et d'entraide s'était alors déployé pour lutter contre ces incendies. . . ."

My translation: A spirit of solidarity and of mutual aid was brought into action to battle against these fires.

May that spirit prevail. And, as I wrote on our friends' Facebook page this morning, may what rises from these ashes be of more value than what is lost, and may it be impervious to fire, flood, and all other perils.

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One Response

  1. Freyalyn

    I am alternating between horror at the appallingness of the fires you describe and pride that people are making such an effort to help others and their animals. Thank you for reporting this.

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