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.

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