Sunday, July 1, 2012

Flagstaff Fire

We had the Flagstaff wildfire threaten our home this week (and by home I mean condo we rent).  Here's my story. 

In high school my best girlfriends and I had sleepovers every chance we could get.  We'd stay up until the wee hours of the morning asking each other questions like the one that has been on my mind all week.  If your house was on fire and you had to chose three things to rescue, assuming all persons and pets are out, what would they be?  

3 things I'd rescue in case of fire
1.  I have scrapbooks, but my parents have my baby books, everything else is somewhat digitized and exists on my laptop.  So, my first thing becomes a laptop rather than a stack of old pictures, but of course I had to grab the laptop charger as well!
2.  My puffalump.  Yup, the yellow bunny that resides on my bed to this day.  This is truly irreplaceable and I've probably had it since I was 6 or 7.

3. Here's where we get into territory that is gray.  I bought renters insurance this year for the first time in my 12 years of renting because we had such a hot, dry winter.  It paid off when my car was stolen a few weeks later and my car insurance refused to cover the stuff inside my car, which added up to about $1200 worth of items since I had my skis and boots in it.  I'm very aware that my renters insurance is mostly to pay for the building itself, should I be personally responsible for some act like a toilet leak that ruins everyone's units in my 8-unit condo.  I'm covered up the wazoo for that sort of thing.  What I am scantily covered for is my actual stuff.  They didn't leave much room for me to get large coverage on stuff.  I've got $10,000 of "stuff" coverage.  I'm sure my landlord's homeowners might kick in to help, but I am going on only what I know to be true.  $10,000 sounds like a lot of money, until you start adding things up.  Couches, piano, TV, six stringed instruments, PS3, bed, dresser, bookshelves, CLOTHES, SHOES, JACKETS, CAMPING GEAR, SKI GEAR, Oh My!!!!  If I had $1200 worth of stuff in my car, certainly Dave and I have way more than $10,000 worth of stuff when considering replacement costs.

Last weekend I was in my cousins's wedding while Dave was in his brother's in two different states.  I returned Sunday.  Dave had been out of town for a long time before that, so Tuesday morning he returned to Colorado for the first time in two weeks.  He flew in and enjoyed the 85 degree condo I had prepared for him after several days of 100+ degrees, no rain, and no air conditioning.  In the early afternoon our neighbor knocks on our door and says, "Have you seen the fire?"  We walk together around to the back of our unit and look up to see a huge plume of smoke coming from behind the mountain that leads to the ridge that we live on.  We broke out the camera and the binoculars and parked ourselves in our backyard for the rest of the day to watch this thing evolve in the winds.  It was started by a lightning strike.  It lit up quickly due to crispy-dry conditions and winds.  Unlike other fires in the state, ours was not fueled by beetle kill trees, just dry conditions, as far as I'm aware.

Fire beginnings.  These were taken from the back of my condo.
This is when the fire spread from back behind the mountain to the mountain.  Thanks, wind. 
While we were watching, our photographer friend, a colleague of mine, got texts that we were under a pre- evacuation notice.  Dave and I didn't get these texts, so the first step was to go online and register our cell phones to our address on the emergency management page (OEM).  We instantly got the same texts and phone calls.  Be ready to evacuate due to wildfire and await further notice!  This left us in an odd position.  Would we be over-reacting if we started packing our car?  Our neighbors were running back and forth from their units to their cars with luggage, art, pet food.  They looked pretty silly.  We called our moms, then started packing things to put by the door in case we had to leave.  I also filled up as many buckets that I owned with water and stretched my hose out passed our fence to be visible.  If ash started a fire in our neighborhood, I wanted to feel like I had water to throw.

This is about when we got our pre-evacuation notice.  We decided to start packing a few things.
What to pack?  I packed the obvious things like laptop, ipad, phone, purse, chargers, puffalump.  Then I started packing an overnight bag.  If we were going to be evacuated, I wanted my medicine and something to wear.  Then I went around the house with my ipad and took a movie of everything we own.  After that I went through every room and thought, "What is the most expensive thing in here and will it fit in my car?"  I ended up with things like my down jacket, hiking shoes, running shoes, favorite clothes, and camping gear.  The sort of thing I could put by the door and carry out in a hurry.  Dave grabbed two of his six stringed instruments and threw them in his van along with a few things he already had pre-packed for his upcoming move to New York.  I felt like I had done a terrible job packing, but most everything I own is replaceable, if I have money to replace it.

We waited.  It was smokey.  We had little food in the house from being between trips so we went out for food, taking our most prized possessions with us.  We've both heard horror stories about people being evacuated while they are away from their homes, so they try to go and get their pets or things out and the road blocks won't let them back in.  If this was going to happen, we'd at least have our main things.  (Screw the goldfish!)

The next day the plume had settled down, but there were several spot fires visible on our side of the ridge.  The city instructed us to turn on our sprinklers.  They also cut down a thick line of trees to make a barrier to our neighborhood in case it came down the mountain.  These fires lasted a few days. 
Through the next days and nights, we'd watch the smoke and fire come over to our side of the mountain, just two miles from our house.  Every night, the cooler air would seep down the valley and smoke would inundate our place, making it impossible to air out our condo that we kept sealed during the day to keep out the 100 degree heat.  Last night, in fact, was the smelliest of the smelliest of smokes.  They are to the point where the fire is very contained but they are back burning for prevention.  We've gotten a few afternoon thunderstorms that dropped a bit of rain, but started small spot fires due to lightning.  Our pre-evac notice was lifted a few days ago and yesterday we finally unpacked a few things.  Thank you to the firemen who have kept us safe and the amazing pilots who have been so fun to watch.  The first night we all watched the planes and helicopters at sunset and our whole neighborhood cheered as they dropped slurry and water on fires.  I know they couldn't hear us, but we are thankful!

I have a hard time functioning on bad sleep, smoke-induced wake ups, and indoor temperatures ranging from 80-90.  I have air conditioning at work, but didn't want to leave in case we had to be evacuated, I wanted a chance at getting my stuff out.  Plus, I wanted to walk out back and look at this thing once an hour.  Also, there's no running or working out of any sort going on.  The only thing I've done is a few laps on the pool.  This has all lead to a sour mood.  I don't know how the people who actually got evacuated or lost their homes in the big fires (High Park and Waldo Canyon) are functioning.  I wish them the best. 

I'd also like to thank our friends and family for their outpouring of support.  Within minutes of our pre-evac notice, I had offers from four people for a place to sleep!  I can't express how much this calmed us, knowing we had a place to go that would feel like home.  Others called to check in and sent messages of well wishes.  This means so much!  Thanks to all!

Here's a timelapse that someone else made of the fire near my house.  This is looking south, so my place is at the bottom of the mountain that's on fire, to the left of the mountain.  It is worth watching this the full way through because it shows some neat night flare ups later in the timelapse.

Boulder's Flagstaff Fire - Timelapse from Dustin Henderlong on Vimeo.
  By Dustin Henderlong

Why so many fires?  A dry winter combined with a heat wave really made us vulnerable to dry thunderstorms (thunderstorms with wind and lightning, but rain that mostly evaporates before hitting the surface, which we call virga). 
Thanks to the NWS for putting this together.  This doesn't show precipitation, but trust me.  It was DRY!

No comments: