Friday, September 10, 2010

Boulder Wildfire

Please note, I have no new news regarding the wildfire.  If you reached this page via google, this is simply my personal account of an event taking place in my town.  I feel awful for the people directly affected by the wildfire, am thankful for all of the firemen and other people keeping us safe, and wish I could do something to help.

Last Saturday, Labor Day weekend, six of us and one dog headed to Rainbow Lakes in the Indian Peaks to go backpacking for one night.  We packed up our gear and despite the last-minuteness of the trip, the only thing I forgot was a raincoat.  We arrived at the trail head around 1:00 in the afternoon and hiked in along an easy trail with several beautiful lakes.  Our organizer had gotten our permit as well as directions on where to stay that night, so we went off trail with a hand-held GPS, compass, and men with amazing senses of direction.

While hiking off trail we all started to realize how dry everything was.  The downed trees that we climbed over just disintegrated under our feet.  Pine needles were everywhere, and with the exception of a small creek, the whole place was just brutally dry.  After lots of bushwhacking and climbing through boulder fields with full packs, we finally found our destination, a cute meadow with two small ponds.  We set up camp, the boys fly fished for a bit in the ponds with no luck (I insist there weren't actually fish in the ponds), and eventually started dinner.  We used our backpacking stoves and were careful to keep things out in the open because our permit very specifically told us not to start a campfire.  There was evidence that the campers before us had not followed this rule because we found several fire pits near our camp.  We enjoyed clear skies, a moonless night, and therefore, an amazing display of stars.  We roped up all of our smelly food/toiletries and hung them on trees away from our camp, just in case a bear might wander by.  Finally, we went to sleep.  I was wearing several layers of clothing, expecting the temperature to drop, but instead, the winds picked up.  I have no way of knowing how strong the winds were that night, but gusty winds inside a tent are never comfortable.  Back in May we had a similar night, but in the desert of Utah.  We were all thankful that at least this time, there wasn't sand falling on our faces all night.  I had a hard time sleeping and woke up at one point thirsty, sweating, and concerned that I had heard an animal outside sniffing. Dave calmed me down, assured me there was no bear, and I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning in the tent because of the wind.

The next day we hiked to a very high ridge right next to the Arapaho Glacier and three beautiful lakes, which are off limits due to them containing our city's water.
Arapaho Glacier with Dave and I enduring gusty winds.
From this ridge, looking east, we could see the city of Boulder in the distance and the plains behind. We ate lunch and hiked down to our camp where our backpacks awaited us. 
Hiking down from the ridge.  That's me in orange!  The two ponds left-center are in the meadow we camped in.  Looking left in the distance is the site of the Fourmile Canyon Wildfire that would start the next day. 
We hiked out through the dry brush again and fly fished some more at one of the more popular lakes. Somewhere along the line I must have set down Dave's trekking poles, because when I got to the end, I no longer had them with me.  Oops!  (First the ipod, now the trekking poles?  I'm really going for girlfriend of the year here.)  We enjoyed a beer (cider) at the trail head, then headed home to Boulder, exhausted from the hike and not sleeping much the night before.

Monday morning Dave and I wandered out to the garage to put our backpacking supplies away.  Dave was opening the garage and looked at me and his eyes wandered to the sky.  I don't remember the exact words out of his mouth, but I turned and was shocked by what I saw.  Through my sunglasses was what looked like a cloud made out of the dirtiest cloud condensation nuclei known to man.  I quickly realized that this was a smoke plume.  It was so huge, so brown, and so close to us that I ran mountain ward for a closer look at the situation.  From my view, which is quite close to the foothills/flatirons, pictured below, the fire source looked too close for comfort.  (I'd later learn that my point of view distorted things and I was one canyon off when describing to Dave where it was coming from.)  We learned quickly that there was a massive fire burning between Boulder Canyon, the canyon we had just taken home the night before, and Lefthand canyon, further north.  It started around 10:00am that day, Labor Day.  Dave is very familiar with this area due to his road biking through these canyons over the past several years and quickly explained to me what I was really looking at.  The winds that had kept me awake all night on Saturday were still howling and caused the fire to spread very quickly.  Of course the ample amounts of dry fuel in the area didn't hurt matters either.  Thus far, there is no confirmed cause of the fire.  

View of the smoke plume on Monday from my "backyard."  Behind these trees are flatirons. 

View from Arapahoe Ave going west from Lafayette. 
 Monday night at 3:14AM I woke up in a panic.  I had been dreaming about a fire and when I came to my senses, I quickly realized why:  our entire condo was filled with the deep, dark smell of thick smoke.  The smell was very intense and I was concerned that I would have breathing problems from it.  Of course we both have healthy lungs/hearts, so my concerns were unfounded.  I popped out of bed and began shutting all of the windows.  (With no air conditioning, we learned to cool our place down nightly.)  The smell was unbearable.  I was able to wake up Dave (this is rare, he is such a heavy sleeper, but I think he could sense my panic) and he explained to me how to turn on the filtering settings on each of his fancy fans.  I decided just to focus on the bedroom and hope that the rest of the house would slowly filter as well.  I hadn't bothered to go online to see if there were new updates and just hoped that if I was going to be evacuated, that someone would knock loudly enough for me to hear them over the buzzing fans.  I woke up for school the next morning to find that the fans had worked.  However, the smell outside was just awful!  The whole city was sitting in a brown cloud due to an inversion, which just happened to be the topic of my classes that day.

That same night, this amazing time lapse video was taken from Flagstaff Mountain, just up the road from us.
Fire from Flagstaff

Wednesday I returned from work to find it was pouring rain in Boulder and after running to the grocery store, this beautiful display of nature showed itself not briefly, but for at least a half an hour.  Had the fire area received the pouring rain?  Probably not as much as we got at my place, unfortunately. 

 Thursday I was searching for more material on the fire for teaching purposes and found that a Red Flag Warning was going into effect for the fire area and Boulder.  This meant that a windstorm was on the way.  Sure enough, it kicked in last night and just roared outside.  Weather observations claim 30mph gusts up by me.  Warnings went out to the city of Boulder:  if you live west of Broadway, it's possible that you may need to evacuate, should the fire expand eastward.  The city cut the grass and cleared brush as an attempt to create a barrier against the possible inferno.  Now, I live south of town and knew that this didn't affect me, but nonetheless, it got me thinking, what would I do if I had minutes to evacuate in the middle of the night?  I went online and found some great links with checkoff lists for fire evacuation, should you have time to prepare.  A few things stuck me as good thinking:  turn on your lights so firemen can see your place at night, put propane tanks in plain view away from structures, fill up pails and garbage cans with water, and have your hose out in plain view for firemen.  Of course it also suggested which belongings to take with you.  A few hours later they clarified the area for possible evacuation and it no longer included my place, which eased my anxiety a bit.

We woke up this morning to find that the wind storm had not caused the fire to spread and the city was safe.  Winds will continue to gust today, although weaker, and winds will become northwesterly any minute, making us, for the first time since it started that I know of, downwind of the fire.  Several evacuees were allowed to return to their homes this morning, but the fire still burns, only 30% contained.  169 homes destroyed, others damaged, and nearly 7,000 acres burned/burning.  Included in this are a few of my colleagues/friends who were either evacuated all week or are waiting in limbo to find out if their house, right in the center of the burn area, was lost.  My heart goes out to them. 

Source:  Boulder County:
The planes continue to fly overhead on their way from the airport southeast of us to the fire northwest of us to drop flame retardant on the fire.  This map shows the evacuation area in red, and current fire perimeter in orange.  The red spots include the reported damaged structures (burned homes, mostly).  We were camping just above the word "Legend" on the left of the map.  We live in the bottom right near where it says "Table Mesa" on a little orange road.  The evacuation for the upper right area of this map has been lifted since it was made.  The concentration of roads in the center right is the city of Boulder, the northwest portion of which was under warning for a possible evacuation last night. 

Before I leave you with a few links to pictures and news on the fire, I ask you this:  if you got an evacuation call (reverse 911) and had minutes to grab what you could before you drove off, with each second you take putting you further in danger, what three things would you take with you?

Live google map


YellowBunnies said...

Can I comment on my own post? Why not?!?
I would bring these three things with me:
1. My yellow puffalump
2. My grandma blanket/quilt on my bed
3. My un-backed-up laptop with years worth of pictures

Dave says he only needs one thing:
1. Chocolate Chips

I insist he'd want his banjo and one of his bicycles.

FDL Lifer said...

I would take my purse, my laptop, and a couple of boxes of pictures from when the girls were young (pre-digital). I would then think of 3 more things that we couldn't live without and make my husband carry them, since the only thing he would even give thought to would be his cell phone.

NavyGirl said...

Good question. I would take...

- Tally pup
- my box of letters from NavyGuy
- photo albums with pre-digital era photos

I haven't been paying attention to the news much, but I hope things have improved with the fire situation!!!