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.
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
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
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)
Saturday evening, as we walked the dogs, this is what the fire looked like from our neighborhood.
Saturday, 8 p.m., from Fort Collins
That's the view across the park about a block from our house, looking northwest.
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
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
Sunday, 7:18 p.m., from Fort Collins
I didn't intend to get my daughter in that photo, but there she is. The dogs, of course, are out of the frame.
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.
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."