So tired of fire

Poudre Canyon volunteer firefighters fought to last second to save homes. This time they lost the shed but saved the home.

Poudre Canyon volunteer firefighters fought to the last second to save homes. This time they lost the shed but saved the home. Note the foamy fire retardant on the side of the home and the tall, flaming pine directly behind it.

Three days. 42,000 acres. 16 aircraft. 400 firefighters. More than 100 structures destroyed. 1 dead. Already the third largest fire in Colorado in the last 40 years. Advancing up to one mile every hour.

And 0% containment.

The lightning-sparked High Park Fire just west of Fort Collins, Colo., started Saturday morning. It has already burned an area larger than Fort Collins itself (64 sq. miles vs. 55 sq. miles). There’s no containment because the winds have been shifting, the fire has burned erratically in many directions, and the focus has been mostly on evacuation and structure protection.

That’s supposed to change, as evacuations are complete and 200 more firefighters arrive tomorrow. I hope so. I’ve already lost track of the fires this year. And it’s only June 11.

Tinder dry trees explode in flames.

Tinder dry trees explode in flames.

Fire rages to the northwest of Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins.

Fire rages to the northwest of Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins.

Fire glows west of Fort Collins

Fire glows ominously in the night sky west of Fort Collins.



Categories: Green

19 replies

  1. I’ve been worried about you. Thanks for the pictures – helps me locate the fire more than news here (Must remember to pull up CO news).
    Those firefighters risk such danger…maybe only those who live with the fire danger really appreciate their efforts. TV just doesn’t show it
    It’s so early. All I can say its maybe if it burns now, those areas will be safer the rest of the summer.
    Last week some ranger or park guy was saying bears and animals were coming out of hibernation earlier because of the warmer winter – and looking for food – and wandering into towns. He was worried there wouldn’t be enough food later in the summer which would lead to more animals getting into areas with people. Now with the fires it will be even worse?
    Like I said – thinking of you.

    • Fort Collins is about 50 miles due north, so smoke is the only danger here. And I’m too far east of the mountains for wandering wildlife to be a big concern. But the fires break my heart. I know all about the need for nature to clear the land periodically, but that’s on a grand scale, a timeline that far exceeds the lifetime of a generation or two of mere humans. When fire destroys the forest, it can destroy lifetimes of work, dreams, investments. It can take lives — humans, pets, livestock. And no amount of insurance can replace the reason all those hopes and dreams were built there in the first place. The sheltering pines, the grand vistas have been reduced to a smoldering, blackened wasteland full of dangerous snags and deadfall. Yes, there will be green next spring — weeds, grasses, wildflowers, a few tiny aspen sprouts, poking up through the blackness underfoot — a more brilliant green than you can imagine. Bravado that brings tears to your eyes because you know the majestic stands of pine and spruce that stood there last year won’t be back in your lifetime.

      And the damage doesn’t stop when the fire is extinguished. There was a story recently about a woman who lost her mountain home in the big fire in March, the one the forest service started. She’s still negotiating with the insurance company about rebuilding her home (a process that can take a couple of years), but in the meantime several heavy storms have washed away so much of her denuded land that she may not have a good place left to rebuild. The forest service has, belatedly, been dropping straw mulch in the area in an effort to slow the erosion, but it isn’t helping much. Several years of severe erosion and flooding can be a fire’s legacy.

      Our larger wildlife generally move to higher elevations and more remote areas this time of year as the warmth rises, forests and meadows bloom, natural food sources become abundant again, and tourists return en masse to the foothills and valleys. I used to worry about the critters in forest fires, but they are smarter and more mobile than humans. They don’t wait for evacuation orders and they don’t have belongings to protect. They smell smoke; they run.

      Sorry, didn’t mean to write a whole new post. I get carried away …

      • No thanks for all this. My cousin/niece in Ft. Collins are worried about friends who had to suddenly escape and leave home and animals. The smoke is apparently pretty bad.
        If the land burns now, will it mean fires won’t happen again there later this year? Here, once the coastal prairie burns, there’s nothing left to burn…but the forested regions can re-ignite and the nightmare just gets worse.
        Erosion is the continuing legacy of major fires….the land is changes forever. You only have to look at Yellowstone National Park to see how long it takes the forest landscape to recover.
        Dropping straw
        We know plenty about dealing with insurance companies – some are still working with theirs over Hurricane Ike years ago.
        Thanks for all our updates.

        • I hope all your family in Fort Collins stays safe. I’m sure everyone there knows someone who has been affected by the fire and the whole town has turned out to help. I can’t imagine the chaos.

          Sure, there’s less chance of fire again where most of the fuel has just been burned off. But smoldering roots and embers can exist for months, waiting for a chance to ignite again if fuel is available, like near the edges of the current burn. With beetle kill areas and more rugged terrain to the west and north of this fire, it could be weeks before it’s controlled.

          There are several areas in Rocky Mountain National Park that burned in the early 1900s and are still treeless. Drought, wind, cold, erosion, and high altitude make it very difficult for anything to get re-established there. “Changed forever” might be an exaggeration in geologic terms, but not in human experience.

  2. Stay safe, PT. It sounds as if it’s not that far away and until one has experienced a fire close by ones home it’s hard to realise how devastating it is. Everything changes. I do hope that things improve soon.

  3. Heard on the evening news tonight that one major reason for the unusual intensity of the conflagration is pine beetles. It said the beetles kill the trees which then become exceptionally inflammable tender. A second factor is too many decades of the wrong conservation philosophy: trying to prevent all forrest fires instead of controlling smaller ones each year – again, the deadwood builds up.

    Will be thinking about you as this progresses – better not stay outdoors too much.

    Jim

    • The pine beetles have been killing off huge swaths of pine forest for several years, spurred in part by drought conditions. They’ve always been around to one degree or another, but in recent years have become a serious threat to western forests. Here in Colorado, they’ve been worse on the western slope, but the damage has been obvious on this side too. Whole mountainsides of reddish (dying) or gray (dead) pine instead of the normal deep green. Like burned out areas, it’s not pretty. It’s depressing. It’s fuel for fires, it’s a breeding ground for the continuing spread of beetles, and it’s dangerous. Those dead snags can fall at any time, unexpectedly, on unwary hikers. The only way to kill/control the beetles is to cut down the infected trees, stack the wood, cover it, and fumigate it. Or burn it, as Mother Nature seems to be trying to do. There’s a developing market for the wood, however; it has an interesting blue tinge.

      The “let it burn” policy has been in place for several decades, but it’s tricky when a fire gets near populated areas. You can’t let a fire burn for a week, and stop it in its tracks if it gets to close to a town. And lots of homes have spread into areas that haven’t burned in 50-100 years …

      Yes, I’m staying inside. Went out just now to turn off the hose and the smell was .. not nice. Normally the smell of wood smoke reminds me of campfires and cozy winter fireplaces. This time my first thought was, “There are homes burning up there … “

  4. There’s some aerial video of the fire posted here. The second one, dated June 11, gives a good idea of the terrain and extent of the fire. Notice the red fire retardant that has been dropped around the white house near the end of the video, protecting it. Homes lost have ranged from small log cabins to multimillion dollar mansions.

    Denver’s Channel 7 has posted an update this evening here. The fire is now 10% contained.

    Today’s aerial survey/slideshow of homes burned, homes saved.

  5. I just knew this whole SW would go up this year. And you guys have had a lot more precip than we have down here.

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