High Park Fire, 7

posted in: Current Affairs | 9

What does "containment" of a wildfire mean? It doesn't mean control, and it doesn't mean the fire has been extinguished. It means that by some means or other a line has been created, through burning out fuels or digging down to bare dirt, over which the fire is less likely to be able to cross. Containment numbers are expressed as percentages and they go up and down, depending on the fire's behavior.

Here's a map from a government source (Inciweb) that shows the current containment status of the High Park Fire, west of Fort Collins, Colorado. I've marked the large numbers on it in order to refer to specific locations in this post.

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The original of that map, with more resolution, can be found on Inciweb.

The fire is the area marked in a pinkish shading, with boundaries in both black and red. The black boundaries indicate containment lines that are currently holding; the red indicate parts of the fire not yet contained. As of today, the fire covers 87,284 acres (just over 136 square miles, 353 square kilometers, or 35,322 hectares) and is 65% contained. As of today, the expected date for full containment is July 30, 2012.

1 – For people who are wondering, this is where we live. Yes, it's not far from the fire, but it's off the main map. Off the main map is really good. On the scale at the bottom, each of those sections is a mile, so the overall scale is 3 miles (4.8 km). The long body of water between us and the fire is Horsetooth Reservoir. The area west of the reservoir and south of the fire (to communities also off the map) have been evacuated from time to time.

2 – The yellow line running east to west above the number 2 is both the Poudre River and Highway 14. The original firefighting goal was to keep the flames from crossing the Poudre. They did cross over the weekend and burned all the area above that yellow line in very short order.

3 – The fire did not burn into this area because it was burned a few weeks ago by the Hewlett Fire, so that little fuel remained. The Hewlett Fire is still active (it's burning), but it is fully contained, and now serving as a fire-stop against the High Park Fire. Unfortunately, it did not stop the fire before it reached our friends' house.

4 – A lot of the High Park Fire firefighting efforts are now focused on maintaining and reinforcing the containment lines and holding what's been saved in the interior of the fire. Those black-contained shapes are the "islands" of unburned land (and buildings) within the main body of the fire. There are some houses standing in there, along with community structures like the Stove Prairie School, which is tremendously important to the mountain community.

The fire is still uncontained on the west and southwest; those are areas full of beetle-kill wood and there are fewer structures. (Rather, "fuller than elsewhere," since beetle-kill is widespread now. That article link is from 2008. We are at the "three to five years" that it mentions for extensive beetle-kill damage.)

Another useful map is this one, which shows the extent of the fire as of a few days ago (it appears to be the latest of its type, dated June 23) but also contains indicators of where there are structures: homes, the school, the volunteer fire stations, and so on. At the time the map was made, the school, at the intersection of Old Flowers Road and Stove Prairie Road, was untouched by fire. Many of us have been poring over this map, trying to determine whether particular buildings are likely safe or likely not.

"Mop up" actions are going on now within the fire perimeter, while the burning continues. Efforts go on to protect still-standing structures within the outer boundaries; to snuff out flare-ups; to remove fuel from areas where the fire can still be stopped; to remove dangerous trees that will impede evacuees' return; to restore power and other utilities.

This is the 8th consecutive day of Red Flag Warning, with high temperatures, low humidity, and potential gusty winds. The growth potential is still extreme, and the terrain difficulty is still, of course, high. People need to be simultaneously ready to return to their homes and to leave again at a moment's notice. The count of homes lost so far is 257.

With fires now burning near Colorado Springs (Waldo Canyon Fire) and Boulder (Flagstaff Fire, no Inciweb page), resources are being shared, allocated, and reallocated as needed to respond to changing conditions.

From Inciweb today:

"As crews gain containment on the High Park fire, fire managers plan to share resources with other fires along the Front Range.

" 'We are going to help those folks out,' said Incident Commander Beth Lund, coordinating the most effective use of resources.

"The High Park fire will retain more than enough resources to meet challenges our fire may offer."

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9 Responses

  1. Deborah Robson

    Beth, the only way I can cope is by learning specifics and demystifying what’s going on. That doesn’t make it any less awesome and awful, but it gives me a way to understand. My words are all about interpreting the phenomena.

  2. Cara

    Deb,
    This reminds me of the B.C. fires of a few years back. My sister and her family were evacuated but the fire luckily stopped at the ridge behind her house. Scary stuff. How is the air quality at your place? The smoke was a problem for folks in Kelowna I remember. In addition to the over 200 homes, the community was most upset about the loss of the heritage train trestle bridges. It’s the old beloved landmarks that make people really sad. Pine beetle infestation lead to forest fires here too.

  3. Anne

    We’re at the top of a ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains in CA and are always aware of a fire possibility. We have cut back more brush than usual this summer, but the reports from CO of winds with huge embers traveling long distances is truly sobering. I was in Colorado Springs a few years ago for the WARP (Weave a Real Peace) annual meeting and can truly imagine the horrors you are facing. Stay safe.

  4. Dina

    I can’t imagine having to live with this threat so near and visible every day and to think it’s only been 8 days with this much damage! And likely to go til July 30th?! Wow. Is the government stepping in to help? Not that I have any idea what they could do.

    I feel so anxious for Colorado, her people and animals.

    Stay strong, keep coping, and investigating/learning. I think your posts about the fire help your readers, too. It’s great to have a better understanding of what’s going on.

    (On a personal note, I can’t believe you looked up long enough to notice my birthday, which was just lovely, never mind comment on it. Thank you, my friend!)

  5. Deborah Robson

    Cara, we were hoping the fire would stop on the ridge just south of our friends’ home (as everyone previously hoped it could be contained south of the Poudre River). I’m really glad your sister’s family came through okay. It’s true that the historic places are hard losses. In addition to the Stove Prairie School, I have favorite locations (some built, some natural) in the Buckhorn and Rist canyons that will likely be gone, or never the same. Many people will feel the same about the Poudre Canyon, which gets more traffic (but is still very rural and mountain-community-feeling . . . I have favorite places there, too). Mishiwaka, for example, is a long-time concert venue up the Poudre (and finally under responsible management).

    Anne, our friends had very defensible space, but one side of the house had some brush that persistently grew back.

    Dina, the government is VERY involved. Cooperating agencies include (from a Larimer County update):
    * Larimer County Sheriff’s Office
    * Colorado State Forest Service
    * Colorado Department of Public Safety
    * Colorado State Parks
    * Colorado State Patrol
    * Colorado State University Police Department
    * Fort Collins Police Services
    * National Guard Military Police
    * City of Fort Collins
    * Colorado State University
    * Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department
    * Poudre Fire Authority
    * Loveland Fire Rescue
    * Glacier View Volunteer Fire Department
    * Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District
    * United States Geological Survey
    * numerous utility companies
    * additional support agencies

    Plus not listed but that I know about:
    * Red Cross (of course)
    * Salvation Army
    * local 211 assistance center
    * Larimer Humane Society
    * CSU vet school
    * other vet clinics offering free boarding
    * dog daycare centers providing free daily care to established clients

    and more, including massive community donations of food and other supplies for firefighters and those affected by loss of access to their homes.

    Edited to add the
    * US Forest Service
    very involved and not listed above in the county survey, which seems to be focusing on state and local involvement. I’m sure there are others really obvious and not included.

  6. Janet

    When I lived in Eugene, OR, fires were much more “present” in my awareness. Places I hiked, or the fire on the ridge across the valley when I was very young. Now, living in the east, PA, it’s easy to hear the news and not have it quite sink in. Thanks for helping me to hear the news with some additional human story.

  7. Deborah Robson

    You’re most welcome, Janet. I have a number of friends who have been on pre-evac, evacuated, or have lost their homes. I’m focusing on the friends who are actually with us, because that’s the story I’m most aware of.

    And while I find the BIG picture gives me context, and the INDIVIDUAL pictures give me meaning, the middle view is just a muddle that causes confusion, rather than clarity.

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