Archive for June, 2012

Waldo Canyon Fire: Evacuation

On my way into work this morning, coming up from Pueblo.

I just watched the evening update for today. Things went well, but the containment is only up to 10%, so the fight is still on. They let us know that it is up to 18,500 acres officially, and the current count of destroyed houses is 346. This is the preliminary number, but it beats the High Park fire in Fort Collins for the record number of structures destroyed by a wildfire in Colorado. The previous record was held by the Hayman fire from 10 years ago. I wanted to expand on my thoughts about what I took with me during the evacuation and mention something that has been bothering me for a while that was highlighted during the 4 pm update.

For comparison, Pikes Peak didn’t have any smoke shrouds this morning.

It had been mentioned earlier that there were people remaining in areas that had been evacuated. The fire department doesn’t have the authority to physically remove people, so they can’t actually do anything about it. I don’t understand two things about this. The first is why they are not heeding the advice of people trained to recognize the danger and remove people from it. The second is why they don’t understand that if they are still there, the firefighters will probably be spending time and energy to protect them that could be better spent protecting their property. During today’s 4 pm update, a man was very determined to get the people in charge to admit that they had to let him back onto his property that is still behind the evacuation lines. He was determined to the point that he wouldn’t even let them tell him why it wasn’t going to happen and that their position was in fact quite legal.

A “spot fire” not so very far from houses.

This falls under my concern that people don’t understand emergencies because we are so seldom actually exposed to them. There have not only been no deaths (yet), there haven’t even been any injuries. I suppose the people that are fighting the evacuation notices don’t realize that there haven’t been any deaths because the professionals have been able to remove people from harm’s way before the fire arrived. The evacuation notices are still in place because the fire is not out, yet, despite the fact that there has been far less smoke to see today. In fact, the professionals are calling it only 10% contained and they are still having trouble getting in there safely. If the people that are trained for this are not comfortable entering this area, what makes the average citizen think they will be safe? I have had friends that were firefighters. They don’t evacuate people and keep them away from their homes for giggles. Of course, they have also spent time up close and personal with things that can go wrong, so they are less able to just hope it’ll be ok.

Later in the day, the spot fires had multiplied.

As of the 6 pm update, they are letting a few people back in, but they are making it very clear that people need to be ready to leave again.

When I evacuated myself, I grabbed enough work and play clothes to hold me over until I could get new if needed. I grabbed a couple of books I just got for my birthday, and the novel I was in the middle of. I also picked up one that has sentimental value. There were a couple of framed pictures to tuck between the folds of clothes, and just the necessary shoes were taken. The wooden saddle-stand my Dad made went in the trunk of the car (fortunately it was still disassembled from my move) along with my box of “important papers” and my gardening bag with my seeds. My computer and work bag were thrown in the car. I grabbed my pillows. I like my pillows and along with my sleeping bag, they meant I could sleep anywhere. My new day pack and water bottles got chucked in the car. Naturally, I had just picked up some food, so I grabbed what could be eaten as is. I had my irreplaceables, clothes, documentation, bedding, food, and potential food (the seeds). When it comes down to it, that’s really all I actually need. Could I have done better? Probably. Did I do badly? Considering that I was running to a town that was still quite functional, I think I did ok.

That would be an awesome picture if it had held the gradations of gray when I shrank it. Oh, and if that weren’t smoke.

When we popped up to the house for a second round on Wednesday, I had more time to think about what I wanted. One thing that was bugging me was a steamer trunk that had family connections. It’s heavy, but it is designed to be carried. The nifty thing about trunks is that they are also good for storing things. It held awkwardly shaped items of various importance. Quite a few of them got pulled out to fit in costumes that had more importance. I also grabbed a few more books, one practical, one philosophical, and one sentimental. I also grabbed my box of “gear,” or various hiking/outdoors/survival things I had collected so I could turn my daypack into something actually useful. I knew we had a little fridge and freezer in our hotel room by that point, so I grabbed a couple more things on a kitchen sweep, including two old cookbooks that would be a pain to replace. When I watered and checked the garden I grabbed one of my potted plants, a gift from a friend. It was leggy and in need of TLC, and I needed to make sure it survived long enough to get that TLC. I considered some original art, but I was pretty sure the fire wouldn’t make it this far, while sitting in my car in 100 degree + weather would really not be good for it.

Another angle with clouds from today’s thunderstorm.

I’m back in the house tonight, and I think our evacuation wasn’t necessarily necessary. However, it did make me take a look at how things are organized now and how they should be organized in case I need to evacuate again. It is getting late tonight, but shortly here I will be totally repacking my trunk. It will hold sentimental items, costumes, and if there’s room, my gear. That way it’s all in one thing that I want to hang onto anyway. I am also going to do some more prep work on my daypack. Will it help me if I don’t have shelter at the end of the day? It’s not that big. Will it be a help in any situation where things are going badly? Yes.

Finally, we have rain coming down instead of smoke going up. We’re up to around 1,200 firefighters now, but they can still use the help.

The idea of being in a disaster is something I have thought about. Things like “bug-out bags” and other emergency and survival ideas have been looked at. However, they are taking on a new urgency. What if I didn’t have time to pack a bag next time? One of the evacuation areas was in “pre-evacuation” for about an hour before it became “mandatory evacuation” on Tuesday. What if I only had an hour to pack the car and I knew my home wouldn’t be there when I came back? What if using my car wasn’t an option? Hopefully this is as much of a fluke as we all want it to be, but I need to start acting as if it isn’t. Emergencies happen. The prepared are more likely to survive.

*There is, however, a little good news in this situation.

Smoke Signals

Not what you want to see after work.

I learned recently that I can send smoke signals to my parents in Maine. I just need to have a really, really big fire. Lucky for me, my entire state is on fire. Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad! I had previously mentioned a very early wildfire in Colorado, but that seemed to just be a teaser for what was coming.

That’s not a cloud.

The High Park fire up in Fort Collins has been going since June 9. It’s big, it’s not amenable to control, and it has apparently burned a record-breaking number of structures. There have been other, smaller fires elsewhere in the state. I regret to say that while I noted them, I didn’t really pay attention to them. In fact, I haven’t been posting here because I’ve been rather wrapped up in myself recently. However, having a fire crop up in my own back yard went a long way toward reminding me that while I do need to work on myself, my issues are rather on the petty side.

I’m pretty sure that’s just the sun, not flames.

The Waldo Canyon fire started on Saturday up in the mountains. It was worth watching, but wasn’t terribly stressful. I had other things to worry about. It was 2,000 acres, and they were calling in the big guns due to the proximity to Colorado Springs. Of course they could take care of it.

Looking toward the Air Force Academy. That’s not a camera flaw. That’s smoke.

On Sunday, I was watching it a bit more. I didn’t get any pictures of the smoke, which was stronger, as it got up to 3,600 acres. But, still, it was only a point of interest because of course they would control it, right?

Air support. The planes are that dwarfed by the fire.

My desk at work didn’t have a good view of the fire, so it wasn’t until I left work on Monday that I got a good look at the smoke. My first thought? Oh shit, what did it hit? However, it was still on the other side of the ridges. It was around 5,000 or so acres at that time.

On my drive home on Tuesday, I saw my first flames and what I now believe was the beginning of the fire rushing down the mountain to engulf the first structures. Shortly after I saw that, the smoke laid down on the city and you couldn’t see much at all. When my roommate got home, she packed herself up and left, headed to Pueblo with her dog. She invited me to join her. After listening a bit more to the news, I wanted to at least get out of town to be on the road if the evacuation order came. “Unpredictable” and “fast-moving” are not things you really want to hear about a wildfire.

The beginning of the rush for the city.

We stayed up late watching the news, and we were awake in time for the 8 am update on Wednesday. It had grown to 15,000 acres overnight and it was burning structures. I happened to have the day off, so we watched the news and heard about the afternoon thunderstorm that was expected. The official answer when asked what would happen seemed to be a collective shrug. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to know and weren’t trying to know so much as the fire was simply refusing to be predictable already. We trekked back up to collect some more stuff, but got out before the clouds rolled in. At the moment, it appears that there was a sprinkle of rain and wind, but so far it hasn’t been as extreme a reaction as it was on Tuesday afternoon and night.

That yellow/orange tinge is accurate. Tuesday evening.

This has been a learning experience for me. From a meteorological standpoint, it appears that the push the fire was given on Tuesday night was from a dry thunderstorm. It is a regular thunderstorm, but the air under it is so dry that the rain drops evaporate before they hit the ground. The evaporation cools the air, and cool air, of course, falls. It changed the wind direction and practically pulled the fire down over the ridge. That’s also part of why the smoke then laid over the city instead of staying in the plumes it had been in. The fear with Wednesday’s storm was that it could potentially do the same thing. Fortunately, it didn’t.

 

Coming back into town.

 

It is hot, record-breaking temperatures. It is dry, humidity in the teens if not single digits. It is windy, Tuesday had gusts up to 60 miles an hour. All of these are conditions that are in the fire’s favor. At the moment, it is getting slightly cooler, slightly damper, and the wind seems to be mostly dying down. These are all going to help the hundreds of firefighters from here and all over the country that have been fighting this for days. (Thank you, firefighters everywhere!)

Wednesday’s storm rolling in.

We were not a mandatory evacuation, but we did have to pack as evacuees. From a philosophical standpoint, it was interesting to see what I grabbed when it really came down to it. When I was tossing around the idea of throwing my stuff in my car and just moving out to Colorado, I was considering what I’d take. My costumes and books were high on the list for the voluntary move. For this one, I grabbed a couple of books, but no costumes. I grabbed my “important papers” box and work and play clothes. I also grabbed the saddle stand Dad made me and my pillows. There was actually surprisingly little that I couldn’t leave, and many of the things I took could have been left if I had to. When I came back today, I did pick up some costumes and a couple of old cookbooks that would be possible but inconvenient to replace.

Garden of the Gods Road was blocked at 25 from going further west.

However, I’m rather irritated with how unprepared I was. Embarrassed, actually. I have some hiking and outdoors gear. I just got myself a little daypack. I come from a family of Scouts. I should have had some of that put together for a grab-and-go bag, but I didn’t. I’ve considered making one. I realize they are a very good idea. However, I have never actually been part of a major emergency, so “tomorrow” was always an option. I’m not the only one. They interviewed a woman who was in a pre-evacuation area earlier that would be packing her valuables “tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow might not be an option, now, so I will be working on setting up that pack tonight.

What about you? Do you know what you would grab in an evacuation? Are you prepared for one? It might not be fire. In New England, it’s floods. (If only they could share some of that rain with us.) Given the patterns over the last few years, I believe that the weather will only get less predictable and more dangerous. Are you ready to react to it?

On a greener note, the hail recovery is going well, No comments from the peanut gallery on my weeding skills.

Things You Can’t Control: Hail

Not what I was expecting when I came out to water that day.

According to the life-philosophy of the Stoics, there are things that you can control, and things that you cannot control. Long story short, figure out which is which and put your efforts into what you can control. What you can’t will take care of itself. Hail is one of those things I can’t control. What I can control is my response to it. It is part resignation, part curiosity, and part thinking about how to minimize the damage next time.

Mental note: tomatoes don’t like hail.

I was not unaware of the possibility of hail. However, I understood it to be of less threat than it is in, say, Wyoming. It could happen, but wasn’t necessarily something to take a proactive stance on like deer or rabbits. However, after the storms last week, I think I do need to be more proactive. About a week and a half ago Showcase 2 and the RCG beds got flattened by a charming combination of torrential downpours and sizeable hail. Fortunately, Showcase 1 is tucked close enough to the house to have been mostly sheltered. The next night brought a second storm that had a tornado watch out east of town. It was the worst hail since 2004 or earlier, so I will accept it as a fluke. However, given what weather has been doing in the last few years, knocking together something for hail protection will fall under “better safe than sorry” for Showcase 2 at the very least. I was told recently that it appears that even years tend to be hail years, so these storms may well not be the last of it. The resignation is that I was aware of the possibility and chose not to take steps as the monetary cost of setting up some sort of shield appeared to outweigh the probability of serious hail damage.

Potatoes, fortunately, are slightly more forgiving.

Hope for recovery.

My curiosity is wondering what will recover and what will not. When I first looked at Showcase 2, I thought that the peppers were all stripped to their stems. A day or so later when I took a closer look, it appears that each has at least one leaf and the stems remain green. My fingers are crossed that they have enough photosynthetic surface areas to recover. The tomatoes had fewer leaves, but they also have stems that are insisting on remaining green, so we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. The ‘tater bed is in tatters, but they fared the best of all, as they have had months of vigorous growth. They went from a bed of solid green to being able to see the individual plants, but I expect them to be fine. The obnoxious part is that the turnips and radishes no longer even have stems, let alone leaves. I haven’t quite decided whether I want to see if they’ll try again or if I want to give up and just replant.

Water damage. That had all been woodmulch.

I spent a couple of hours the following Saturday afternoon helping out in the food bank beds at the Ranch Community Garden. Aside from my root vegetables being shorn and the flowers showing the insult of the deluge, my pepper and tomatoes were still small enough that they seem to have weathered the weather fairly well. There wasn’t much to do. However, some kind soul donated gobs of tomatoes and assorted other plants to replace the abused ones in the beds and they needed to go in the ground. I noticed that the foodbank beds weren’t the only ones getting a significant re-do. My understanding is that given half a chance, plants will do their best to recover from a hailstorm. However, seeing the bedraggled state of most of them, I can understand the desire to replace them with a plant that is immediately more vigorous. My fingers are crossed partially because I want to see what they can do for themselves, and partially because I would hate to replace my own heirloom plants with whatever is left over at the garden centers after half or more of the gardeners in Colorado Springs have replaced their plants.

My poor turnips. That had been 16 healthy little plants in tidy rows getting ready to give me some tender greens.

Now to the proactive part. None of the gardens I have been working with are producing food that is a requirement for the family’s table. All of them are simply an appreciated supplement. However, I do need to think about this as both a supplemental food source and a main food source. Eventually, I hope to be able to feed myself primarily from my gardens and I would like to help people that have limited access to good produce if they don’t grow their own. Good food, after all, should be a right not a privilege. I have a lot to think about. Hardware cloth seems to be the protection of choice, since it is very permeable for light and rain, but less so for hail. If I had my tomatoes in cages, I could just give each cage a roof and call it a day, but the ones under my protection are all on trellises. Do I build permanent structures or things that I bring out when hail threatens? This storm gave warning that it was going to be ugly, but not all of them do around here. Do I build something that is strictly for hail, or should I just go ahead and build multi-purpose structures? How much of the garden should I cover? The place the peas are growing is not going to lend itself to protection, and the potatoes seem to be doing fine without it. Should the structure have a flat roof (easier) or a peaked/rounded roof to help shed the ice? At what point should I bow down to local circumstances instead of insisting on getting what I want? Naturally, the grasses and lambs-quarters are doing just fine. Fortunately, I hear lambs-quarters make excellent salad greens. I will keep you updated as decisions are made and plans are put in place.

As every gardener knows, weeds always survive . . .

Showcase 2, RCG Beds: Hot weather plants

RCG A

I planted my hot weather veggies- specifically, tomatoes and peppers, a couple of weeks ago. There were a total of 9 pepper plants in Showcase 2, three bell, three jalapeno, and three chili. I also planted one bell pepper in bed B of my RCG beds. I’m not much of a pepper person, but the owner of Showcase 2 is. She got three tomato plants, and RCG A got two. I think we will not lack for peppers or tomatoes when the harvesting starts.

RCG B. You can see the three garlics that have decided that being planted in May is no reason not to participate.

The tough part of peppers and tomatoes around here is that they are not frost-hardy and I don’t have any of the nifty things to save them from a frost. In most of the country, once you’re a week or two past the last frost date, you’re fine. Well, it was snowing on Mount Evans a week before I planted, and a couple of days after I did the planting, Pikes Peak had a fresh white mantle as well. Granted, both of them are “Fourteeners” or mountains at fourteen thousand feet, but at around six thousand feet above sea level, we aren’t that far below the clouds that were dropping snow.

Showcase 2’s tomatoes and their brush trellis. The straw was purchased for the potatoes, but the other plants seem to like it, too.

They are growing fairly slowly at this point, but it hasn’t been consistently warm to really encourage them. The beans, however, seem to be quite pleased with themselves. It turns out the beans in RCG A are bush beans, not pole beans. Oh well. There are two types of pole beans and another type of bush bean in Showcase 2. We are using the dead brush in the corner of the garden as the bean trellis. When I was cleaning out some of the live stuff and the ones that seemed the most likely to poke an eye out, I ended up with enough spare branches to knock together a brush trellis for the tomatoes. That way, we don’t have to buy one. At least not this year. I don’t imagine it will last more than one.