Posts Tagged ‘fire’

It Never Rains . . . But It Pours!

Step one: Check out these photographs: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=82090 and Step two: After you put your eyes back in your head, here are a few numbers for you: http://krcc.org/post/high-costs-colorados-high-water-numbers Step three: After you put your eyes back in your head again (really, it’s not good for them to do that), here’s a video from down by me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Hgcl2ltSg Colorado Springs wasn’t hit nearly as hard as they were up north, but it’s been rough. Manitou Springs has been dealing with flooding all summer because it was built on a flood plain (not so smart) and is now downhill of the Waldo Canyon burn scar (not so lucky). All of those trees and plants that got burned are no longer able to slow the flow of water down the mountain. They’ve also been having trouble in both burn scars with flood mitigation. Because they’re in the mountains, they simply can’t get the big machinery where it needs to be. While there are some amazing people doing amazing things to protect both the mountain and those of us at the bottom, they are limited if they only have the tools they can carry in.

Black Forest Fire Day Four

I tried to go up to Pine Creek High School again, since it had such a great view, but it has been totally taken over, so we civilians weren’t allowed in. When I was trotting around looking for another good site, I got this picture:

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 003

Yay, rain!

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Colorado does this awesome (read, potentially annoying) thing where it precipitates by zip code. It might rain in the mountains, but nothing in town. It might rain in the north part of town, but not the south part. You can see here, rain where I am, but blue sky not so far away.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 008

I headed out to Falcon to see if I could get some pictures of the eastern side of the fire. You can see how windy it is from the thunderstorm. My camera and I aren’t fast enough to get lightening pictures, but we had that, too. You can also see the development in the bottom of the picture. As you head east out of town toward the plains, you tend to see either open farm/ranch land or housing developments. Sadly, those are usually on old ranches because selling to a developer is more lucrative than farming or ranching.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 009

Between the clouds and the road blocks, I didn’t get anywhere near the fire. However, I’d rather have the weather finally helping with controlling the fire than awesome smoke and fire pictures.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 012

In tonight’s update, they were very clear that while the rain was helpful, the fire is far from out, and it wouldn’t take much at all to return to the hot, dry conditions that were fanning the fire earlier in the week. However, the cloud cover, higher humidity, and brief rain shower did help the firefighters make some headway. We are up to 30% containment, and some of the mandatory evacuations were revised down to pre-evacuation status. The count is up to 400 homes lost, but 2,833 are fine. They have about 5,000 more to check in the mandatory evacuation area. It is very tragic for each of the 400 families who lost their home, but the ratio of buildings lost to buildings saved is impressive. Many thanks again to all of the people working to keep the damage as limited as possible.

Day 4 Black Forest Fire 002

So what have I been up to, aside from trotting around taking pictures? I am living about 10 miles south of the fire, and the wind hasn’t really blown it south much at all. However, I have still been cooking, doing dishes, doing laundry, and working in the yard. They are normal tasks, but they take on new meaning in these circumstances. A hotel room may not have a kitchenette, but it will probably have a microwave. Pre-made meals mean that I can still feed myself on a budget even if I have to leave. It also means that I’m leaving less food behind to be lost. Dishes and laundry need to be kept up with so that I don’t have to do them while I’m packing my car to evacuate. Plus, I prefer to travel with clean clothes. I’ve been slowly taking last year’s dead weeds out of the yard this summer, but the task took on new urgency when the dry weeds changed from unsightly to potential tinder. I don’t want to think about the yard if the wind changes direction and we are put on pre-evacuation status. At that point, all I want to think about is getting my car packed and hitting the road before anyone else does.

The other thing I am doing is planning. Last year there was one fire, and it was a bit north of us, so my roommate and I fled to Pueblo. This year, Pueblo had a small fire, and the Royal Gorge Fire is also south, so that’s out. The fire is north of us, and has closed down 83, which leaves 25 as the only direct road north to Denver. Well, evacuees plus construction would make for a mess. North is out. The plan is to head east out of town. Maybe, depending on the fire direction, I would feel safe stopping in Calhan, or maybe I wouldn’t stop until I hit Kansas. To that end, I’ve been watching my gas gage, and if it hits half-full, I’ll top it off. If I have to leave, I don’t want to stop.

This year I’m also much more on top of what I’ll take with me. I finally re-packed my trunk so that it held the things that I don’t use on a regular basis, but I wouldn’t want to lose. I have also made a mental note of what else needs to be taken, and in what order it goes to the car. The most important stuff gets loaded first just in case I get interrupted and have to leave now. I haven’t packed any clothes, but if the wind starts blowing this direction, I’ll do that immediately. I have no intention of waiting for a mandatory evacuation order to get out of the house.

Given the wild hurricanes out east, the tornados in Oklahoma, and the increasingly early fires out here, I suspect that this is not a fluke. This is the beginning of a trend of increasingly wild weather and natural disasters. How fast can you get out of your house with the people, pets, and items that matter most? Will it be fast enough?

Black Forest Fire Day Three

During the morning briefing we were told that it was up to 15,000 acres with 360 structures lost. Waldo Canyon topped out at a bit over 18,000 acres and 346 homes lost. So, we beat one state record, and we’re working on the other. Yay? By the afternoon briefing it was up to 15,700 acres, but it looked like no more structures had been lost. We are at 5% containment. We have about 750 firefighters on the ground at the moment. I have no idea how many police, military, and others are helping out.

There have been two confirmed deaths. The deceased were on the phone with people at 4:20 on Tuesday, watching the glow in the distance. At only three-ish hours into the fire, they may well have not gotten an evacuation notice at that point. Around 5 they called another person to say that they were on their way out, and they could hear popping and snapping from the fire. They were found in their garage looking like they were just about to leave. This is why when the authorities say to get out, you need to get out. The authorities aren’t allowed to grab you and bodily remove you from harm, but the fire has no such respect for your rights.

On a happier note, the Royal Gorge Fire seems to be much more under control. I had scoffed, yesterday, about them being so concerned about reopening the area for tourists. I had no idea how heavily they depend on tourists. There are about 200 people, 50 full-time and 150 seasonal, that are out of jobs. My heart goes out to all of them.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 001

That parking lot was empty, yesterday. It looks like they’re setting up some sort of a staging area at Pine Creek High School.

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As I mentioned before, the military has been a huge boon. They are ready and able to step in to support the police and the fire fighters.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 036

They also know to take a rest when they can. The firefighters are working 12-hour shifts, and I have no doubt that everyone else is working just as hard.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 035

You can see that it’s windy and cloudy. We had a thunderstorm rolling toward us. It sounds like a good thing, until you remember that it was a thunderstorm that pushed the Waldo Canyon Fire over the ridge and into Colorado Springs. Around here, it’s very possible that a thunderstorm will not bring any rain worth speaking of but will bring gusty, unpredictable winds and lightening. We didn’t get any rain, but we also didn’t get any lightening, and apparently the cloud cover did help some with keeping a touch more moisture and a touch less heat in the air.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 007

Given the heavy police and military presence, the civilians weren’t crawling through the wire fence to stand on the top of the hill. I’m sure the homeowner was happy about that. However, there were still people watching what the western end of the fire was up to.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 008

This is a “MAFFS” plane. They dump 2,700 gallons of fire retardant in about five seconds. The release gives the same push to the plane as one of their engines at full power.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 009

Here’s a close-up as it flew almost overhead.

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This one was almost an awesome picture. Darn tree.

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This one turned out ok, though. That red is called slurry. They have been telling us repeatedly that it doesn’t put out the fire, but it is supposed to slow it down so that the ground crew can actually get in there to stop it. You can see in some of these pictures exactly how dry our plants are. Even the yucca are looking a little tough.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 010

I’m guessing this was a plane used as a spotter to help direct both the fixed-wing planes and the helicopters.

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This is the house I saw yesterday that I thought was doomed. It’s still there!

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I’m used to seeing stuff like that back east when it gets misty. I don’t think I like the smoke version nearly as much.

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Here are some more of the first responders of one type or another. Thank you! Thank you, very much!

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Have you made a donation to your local food bank, yet? The easily opened tinned meat has been requested to make it easier to feed the firefighters in the field. The tuna will be for the evacuees and, later, for those who have lost their homes.

Day 3 Black Forest Fire 040

I had wanted to see if I could follow the southern edge of the evacuation area to see if I could get pictures of the western part of the fire. When Old Ranch Road took a 90-degree turn and I saw this- I decided it was time to go home.

It’s That Time, Again

My state is on fire again. This is a week-and-a-half earlier than the Waldo Canyon Fire last year. Why is that a problem? Because it’s only mid-June. Grass should still be growing and green, but our grass and trees are dry enough to allow for raging fires. Yesterday, three fires started. The one just north of Colorado Springs is the Black Forest Fire. Due south in Pueblo there was a small grass fire, and south-west of the Springs, in Canon City, is the Royal Gorge Fire. Today, another tiny one sprang up to the west in Florissant. The one in Pueblo and the one in Florissant seem to be under control.

The Royal Gorge Fire topped out at 3,500 acres and as of the last update is down to about 3,000 and is considered to be 20% contained. In order to call it “contained,” they need to be sure that the fireline or other border that is established won’t be broken through. That means that 20% of the outer edge of the Royal Gorge Fire has been stopped. If it so chooses, the fire can still grow in size, since 80% of the outer edge is not yet trapped behind a border. I did find it a little amusing, though, that before any sort of containment was even announced, they were already talking about setting up a meeting to discuss how to rebound from this for the tourists.

Our fire, however, simply scoffs at our puny human efforts to contain it. Apparently it went from ignition to 8,000 acres in about 10 hours, yesterday. As of the 5:00 update today, it was 11,500.

I apologize for the lines in the blues and greys in the following pictures. Compressing my camera’s pictures to a reasonable size tends to mess with the gradients.

Black Forest Fire 008

While I was driving, I saw one of the helicopters on its way back to the Air Force Academy for a refill. They opened their runway to help with all of the air support. See that green tree in the corner? The haze between me and the mountains is the smoke.

Black Forest Fire 009

I also saw a roadblock. Not that I wanted to get that close to the fire, anyway.

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I ended up in a field near Pine Creek High School. It had a great view, and it was at the southern edge of the voluntary evacuation area, which was the evacuation area the furthest away from the fire. I wasn’t the only one that wanted to see what was happening but didn’t want to get in the way of the people working their butts off to protect our city.

Black Forest Fire 010

Unlike Waldo Canyon, which was a fairly steady wall of fire, this one has a ragged edge that moves forward with spot fires.

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I’m kind of hoping it’s a back-fire, though. Otherwise, that house is screwed. The official count, as of noon today, was over 100 structures lost, with 92 of them being homes. It isn’t a complete count, though, as I talked to a man whose house is in the affected area but it was not on the list of lost structures or the list of ones that were unharmed. It will be a while before we can get a really accurate count.

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This one flew right overhead, since it was coming from the other end of the fire to be refilled at the Academy. We have fire-fighting aircraft and military aircraft in on the action. There are perks to being in a military town.

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I think this one is even from the Academy fleet.

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If this dark plume is one house . . .

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. . . then what the hell is burning here?

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It has been quite windy today, but because the fire is more in the plains than the mountains, it is safe enough to keep the air support flying. They were mustered a whole lot faster than last year, and thank goodness, too. The area isn’t as densely populated as the Springs, but it’s not empty, either.

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Bright blue skies and fires. Both products of being in such a dry area.

However, on a positive note, Care and Share received over 100,000# of donations of food and drink, today. I saw them put out a note that they needed Gatorade. It was only two or three hours later that they put out another note saying that they were now swamped in Gatorade. I live in a pretty awesome community.

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.