About 6 weeks ago, I wrote about the Cameron Peak fire and the effects of its smoke and ash many miles away, where I live. Since then, there have been some changes. That fire has continued burning and is now the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history, at 206,977 acres this morning (see the InciWeb site for all manner of fire details). It’s coming under control, now at 57% containment.
But wait, there’s more. Lots more.
In Boulder county, where I live, we had two fires start this past weekend. Calwood started Saturday. Most wildfire names come from their geography, and this one started near Calwood. Calwood is an outdoor education center, and many local school students have a week of “outdoor ed” there each year at this treasured local resource. The good news is that the education center didn’t burn. The not so good news is that more than 10,000 acres did burn, and a number of homes, I believe 24, were completely destroyed. More good news–no people are known to have died or sustained serious injury. Wildlife, forest, there was serious injury. This fire is now 55% contained, and evacuation orders have been lifted, so that people who have homes remaining (the majority of those evacuated) can return home. Dumpsters are being provided for emptying refrigerator and freezer contents. Gotta be nasty after a week without power. At least everyone is accustomed to wearing masks.
A day later, the Lefthand Canyon Fire started. Only a few miles away from Calwood as the crow flies, but in a different drainage. This fire spread less quickly, and while a great many people living in tiny mountain towns had to evacuate out of caution (hot dry winds and beetle-killed forests and steep terrain and a drought are a terrible combination), this fire burned “only” 460 acres. This fire is now 100% contained, and with some luck and the forecast cooler and wetter weather, there is hope that it will not cause more damage.
While all this was going on in my immediate vicinity, there was another fire, the East Troublesome, (named for nearby Troublesome creek) which had started October 14, just north of Hot Sulfur Springs. It was burning some, causing local concern and inconvenience, until, a week later, it literally was blown up. Its been hot and dry and windy (I believe I’ve mentioned drought conditions) and a week after the fire had started, the hot dry winds took a 30,000 acre fire and literally overnight it grew to 125,000 acres, forcing towns to evacuate under terrifying conditions in the middle of the night. If you’ve heard of Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in the US, residents of Grand Lake were fleeing the fire over Trail Ridge into Estes Park in the middle of the night. Trail Ridge is a beautiful scenic drive, but it’s certainly not one I would want to do in darkness with a wildfire at my back.
Unfortunately, the fire took much the same path, and some of it jumped the Continental Divide, setting up another locus of fire on the Eastern side of the divide. Most of the terrain in this area is steep and rocky coniferous forest, very difficult to access, and very easy for a wind-driven fire to spread rapidly, as Wednesday night illustrated. This meant that the town of Estes Park is now threatened by this fire. The Cameron Peak Fire has been north of Estes, and the nearby hamlet of Glen Haven had already been evacuated for a week owing to Cameron. At noon yesterday, Estes Park got the notification that part of the town was now under a mandatory evacuation order.
So now to personal parts of this tale. My sister Deb is a long time resident of Estes Park. She’s about to retire from her job running the EP branch of the Larimer county health department, and her husband taught math at EP high for many years. She’s got an arthritic thumb, and yesterday she had surgery on it down in Boulder. She and her husband had to take the long way to the surgery center (road closures due to Calwood fire), but they made it, her surgery went well, and afterwards they headed back “up the mountain”. Less than an hour after arriving home came the evacuation order. So they had to quickly pack up essentials and hard to replace items and head out of town. This time they went to my brother’s house in Greeley, where they have a lot of extra space. Owing to the gridlock getting out of Estes along with all their friends and neighbors, the 50 mile trip took more than 3 hours. They made it safe and sound, and were welcomed with a comfortable bed and tasty supper.
As of this morning, the eastern part of the fire is holding fairly steady, Deb and family are hunkered down in Greeley for the time being, and it looks like both her home and our family cabin which is a few miles south of Estes Park are all still standing and not under imminent threat. The East Troublesome fire, which was at 30,000 acres Wednesday afternoon, is now at 170,000 acres and 5 percent contained, and is the states second largest wildfire ever.
Biggest wildfires ever, late fire season, most acreage ever burned in the state. Yes, this is climate change. We had a record number of days this past summer with temperatures above 90 degrees F (32C). Most of the state is in a drought. We’re semi-arid anyway, and with a little more heat, the snow melted out early, leaving the ground even more parched than usual, and the late summer monsoons didn’t show. A perfect setup for forest fires. The cause of these fires has not yet been determined, but they are likely human caused, as there wasn’t any lightning noted. Human caused can mean many things, from arson, to a campfire gone wrong, a cigarette misplaced, a spark of any sort, including from a gun, and this is hunting season. We may get an answer and we may not. If you are interested and want to read more on the statistics of our fires and how much change there has been in the last 20 years, this links to an excellent article.
Good news, the weather is cooler, we had frost this morning. As I was eating breakfast, I noticed a few white things drifting down. My first thought was “more ash from the fires”. They were snowflakes, but what an illustration of how quickly our perspective and assumptions can change. Its cooler today. Unfortunately, tomorrow is predicted to be warm and windy, more “fire weather” And then, maybe a real snowstorm on Sunday. Let us pray.
I’ve been writing about Colorado, as its my home and what I know. There are many other places in the western US having a bad fire season, notably California, Oregon and Washington. These are indeed Troublesome times, on so many levels. And at the same time, there is goodness and support, with neighbors helping each other, reaching out to someone who needs something. We need more pulling together, whether to put out fires or figure out how to live in community once again.