Colorado fires rage; cooler heads are needed!
This is a post I didn’t plan on writing. However, with the number of inquiries concerning our safety we have received, it’s probably the easiest way I can convey what I know – and it will surely be read by family and friends. Before going any further I want to reassure everyone that Margo and I are safe and well away from the flames as is our daughter Anna and her family. We may live in the Boulder and Laramie counties and reside close to Boulder and Ft Collins, but these forest fires raging in the foothills would have to cover a lot of territory before having any direct impact on any of us.
Having written the above it’s also worth stressing that there are many families facing difficult times with little to no knowledge of their situation, other than what they see in the news or read on social media. Having viewed this material and pulled some images from their coverage it is still shocking to Margo and me that, in modern times, Mother Nature can turn so quickly and bring such devastation such that I really find it difficult to call her Mother. It’s like some George Lucas Sci-Fi movie where the mothers devour their husbands and children only to then turn on anything that moves. I guess I have to add that I have now watched a couple of episodes of the serial, Mandalorian.
We have had fires raging up and down Colorado’s foothills ever since we arrived. It’s seasonal and it is a constant reminder that the rolling plains you see depicted lying up close to the mountains are categorized as high desert geographies. Perhaps not quite the equivalent of the Great Sandy Desert of Australia or the Sahara or Kalahari deserts of Africa but nevertheless, subject to extended periods of drought. And this has been our situation for some time whereby the presence of strong winds, it’s truly a furnace waiting for ignition. And now we have two vicious fires that are barely under control – the Cameron Peak Fire and as of the weekend, the Calwood Fire.
The significance of the photo above is twofold. This is an expensive neighborhood that is close to Colorado State Highway 36, a major east-west route that Margo I drove from Indianapolis to Estes Park only a few years back. It takes you through Hannibal Missouri that is alive with the ghosts of Mark Twain. More importantly perhaps is that it goes through many townships within the counties of Boulder and Laramie. The smoldering ruins are what were visible during Sunday morning of the same house that was alight Saturday night and featured in the photo atop this post. The photo is also significant in another way. The residence in the foreground was a house we considered buying on two separate occasions.
The adobe style home wasn’t quite to our tastes but in 1999 it came on the market and we drove past it many times. We liked the architecture but at the time the price point was a tad higher than we were willing to pay. And yet, it was the same year we broke ground on our Niwot home that ultimately ended up costing us almost twice as much. The views from every room in the “adobe house” were spectacular and the interior design was like it was from a spread in Architectural Digest. When it came time to sell our Niwot home, we finally arranged for a viewing as it was back on the market but this time around, maintenance had not been performed for nearly two decades and the tab to bringing it back to an acceptable standard wasn’t something we were prepared to consider.
We have a saying around these parts that “water always wins.” Doesn’t matter the circumstances but when there is water, it always finds a way to maximize potential damage. In the flood of September 2013 – something the local Boulder paper described as “Eight days, 1,000-year rain, 100-year flood – our Niwot home eventually became surrounded by water. And we were atop the hill and a high point in the neighborhood. But these days, we aren’t reminiscing about fire but openly conversing on the severity of fire damage that can occur with our homes, our fields and our forest.
What the water can do is help frame dramatic pictures of fire and the photo above is one that does exactly that – devastatingly beautiful. Lake Loveland diverts Colorado State Highway 34 much like an extended “Bus Stop” we encounter on race tracks the best example of such being on the Buttonwillow road course.13 CCW being our favorite configuration of that track. There is a small park on the south eastern corner of the lake and it looks very much as though this photo was taken from that location. Travelling east on this highway will take you close to our Windsor home so seeing this photo made very real the potential impact that this fire might have on our neighbors’ homes.
Growing up in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, there was rarely a summer when our parents weren’t called home early to fight a summer’s bush fire. With nothing but eucalyptus trees surrounding us, our hold on our homes was always tenuous. Growing up in the suburb of Lindfield that was carved out of property a little to the west of Bradfield, a Royal Australian Air Force training center during the WWII, it was leafy and rocky with a creek flowing through it. But come summer time with temperatures regularly climbing past 100F, it was very much a situation of an accident about to happen. In fact the whole western side of the North Shore suburbs, from Chatswood to the south on up through to Hornsby in the north, was regularly set ablaze by one spark or another.
Then again, it’s not like the Australian bush fires aren’t featured on Colorado’s television news nights so there is something rather disturbing to be seeing these current outbreaks reminding me so much of my younger days living in Sydney. As for the state of New South Wales it wasn’t so much as a couple of months since the biggest bushfires of the summer had been put out than the global pandemic hit hard. Are we really sure Mother Nature is the kind and gentle Mother we all picture in our minds?
All Saturday we were covered in thick smoke with the falling ash covering everything we left outside. We have one more car than we have garages – a situation we plan on remedying next year – and we have lost count of how many times we have washed it. On the other hand, our latest purchase has been a battery-powered leaf blower by DeWalt and it’s fantastic to have at hand in times like these. The sky became very dark and the sun turned blood red and color of buildings turned an eerie orange. We all know Halloween is only weeks away but what we were watching put the chants and incantations of any witches to shame.
Photos that began to show up on Sunday morning told us in no uncertain terms how difficult it had to be fighting these fires. The terrain was rocky with few access roads and fire front itself was very long. This Cameron Peak Fire has now become the largest fire Colorado has ever experienced and as such, depends on aircraft water-bombing the front. However, as Sunday turned into Monday and with a wind shift driving the fire back on itself – well, almost – the overcast skies meant there could be no more flights for a while. Without the chemical inhibitors, we are once again very concerned for our neighbors. Where is this fire headed?
Listening to the Boulder County Sheriff who has a well-organized plan to get families out of the way of the flames, there was a sense that this too will pass. The local Boulder fairgrounds have been turned into shelters for the large numbers of horses that had to be moved out of harm’s way. Boulder is an equestrian mecca so the local television reports informed us. All the same, volunteers were stepping in delivering hay even as they helped with transportation and opening their own properties to late arrivals. It is as it has ever been here in Colorado with neighbor helping neighbor and viewed against the headlines coming out of other cities it was truly refreshing to see.
All the while, homeowners along the front ranges watched nervously as the fire kept coming closer and closer to their homes. These weren’t average homes as it turned out but rather some of the largest in Boulder. Situated in the gated community of Lake of the Pines, their situation meant that tucked away in the foothills as they were, they could see many of the high peaks of the Continental Divide.
The views were magnificent but because these homes were on acres of land it meant that the potential for fires to quickly sweep down the foothills given winds coming from the west meant that they were extremely vulnerable. When I first moved to Boulder in the years before Margo and I were married, we lived in a foothills estate called Crestview. Keeping up with the news we were surprised to read in the Colorado Sun that these homes were especially at risk and there is every likelihood that some of our neighbors did lose their homes.
That is especially poignant as we knew some of our neighbors quite well. Margo’s Mom and daughter Anna, my parents Roy and Coreena, my daughter Lisa and my sister Judy had been regular guests at our mountain home but to think what state it might be in now is somewhat unsettling. As for saner heads at work, we left the mountains for the rolling prairies not because we didn’t like the mountains but rather because we wanted a better view of them. Who knows what they look like now; blackened and little more than charcoal, I suspect.
It is with the photo above that I will end this post. Margo and I know this area well and all we can add is that with almost 100 homes lost to date, there will be considerable angst within the community over how best to recover. Looking at this photo it seems strange to see a perfectly kept tennis court still standing apparently without a blemish but with nobody to play tennis, it’s tough to reconcile it’s presence with the destruction all around the court.
Amongst ourselves, we have talked about the forest fires for some time. It’s been weeks now since the first reports were made about the ferocity of the Cameron Peak Fire but it was a long way away. It wasn’t until this weekend that together this fire along with the sudden emergence of the perhaps more devastating Calwood Fire, reminded us of how fragile our situations can be at times. We had a good snowfall a few weeks ago and it did nothing to dampen the Cameron Peak Fire and just this weekend, we had rain but again, to no avail. The wind turned the fire back on itself but we have heard little about the effect it may have had on ending its march down the mountains.
For now it’s more sweeping of driveways and washing of cars. It’s a glance over our shoulders towards the mountains even as it’s keeping an eye on the television for late-breaking news. Colorado has experienced fires for a very long time and there will be many others in the years ahead but what this particular pair of fires has instilled in us is that fire, like water, left unchecked always wins. All we can do is get out of its way and stay safe as it’s only buildings and we can always build again. For now, as yet another reminder, Margo and I are perfectly safe and want to assure you all that we are a long way away from the front but for now, we both want to thank you for your emails and your concerns. They have been much appreciated!