Colorado wildfires

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21 07, 2014

Déjà vu Wildfires and Round Rabbits

By |2014-07-21T06:00:42-05:00July 21st, 2014|Make Me Think Monday|0 Comments

This time last year, we were settling back in to our home after a mandatory evacuation for The West Fork Complex fire. If you missed those blogs, you can find the full story here, here, and here

On July 19, 2013  the last incident update reported a total area of 109,615 acres lost and 66% containment with 43 personnel engaged in combating the blazes.

300px-WestForkComplexMapFinalNot a fun time and very scary. My heart goes out to those in the Pacific NW and particularly Washington State who are fighting so many wildfires right now, and I pray that all will be safe.

Things can be replaced people can’t.

That truth that was brought home last week as I participated in a public tour of the Papoose Fire burn site, smallest of three fires of the West Fork Complex. The Papoose Fire destroyed more than 49,000 acres. It’s the  area on the bottom right in the picture above.

Even though a total of over one hundred thousand acres burned, there was no loss of human life or homes. That is an amazing accomplishment and the West Fork Fire Complex has become a study model for methods of fighting future wildfires.

??????????????????????Before we left the Creede Forest Service office, I picked up a tour partner. I named him Round Rabbit after Flat Stanley, who traveled with me on many other adventures.

Mike Blakeman, with the Rio Grande National Forest Service, and Emma, a natural resource coordinator with the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team (RWEACT), conducted the tour.

A lump formed in my throat seeing all the charred and blackened pillars that used to be trees on the drive up to Fern Creek.fire 1Yet as we traveled up the mountain to the burn site, spectacular groups of purple and yellow wildflowers that Ranger Mike called fire flowers flourished in the ash. The high intensity fire had burned or seared the surface, but underground seeds of the perennial plants survived.fire 3

Clusters of Aspens, which also spread via a root system, were everywhere along our route. Soon the former green mountain views will be dusted gold and yellow every fall. Aspens can grow to heights of ten to fifteen feet in ten years.

So while the old views of the Rio Grande Forest have been permanently changed and the vision of so many burned trees is devastating, the new growth testifies to how things can be replaced.

The pine and spruce trees will take hundreds of years to repopulate making the look of the forest very different from the past, but nature has a way of balancing itself.

fire 2We went to a RWEACT site where Emma and Ranger Mike explained how RWEACT is conducting controlled studies of methods to reclaim and prevent runoff damage. The group is also working with the Forest Service to explore how to use the acres and acres of burned wood for the development of biomass as an alternative energy source.

Learn more about the recovery work of RWEACT here.

Some of the burn areas remain unstable as the dead and burned trees can easily topple to the ground. But, the good news is Forest Service has stabilized and opened most of the trails and fishing sites…and the fish are biting.

You’ll enjoy the scenery in the Rio Grande National Forest campsites even though it’s not exactly beautiful (except for the lovely purple and yellow fire flowers). You can see how things are okay after a fire’s devastation and maybe you’ll catch some fish.

In August, Round Rabbit and I will join a similar tour of the West Fork Fire burn area.

Count on another blog with pictures of the recover in that area of the West Fork Fire Complex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 07, 2013

Life in a Wildfire Conclusion – I hope!

By |2013-07-15T06:12:26-05:00July 15th, 2013|Life in A Wildfire|3 Comments

Last blog I ended with a cliffhanger-

Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton gave the all clear for residents of South Fork to return to their homes, but because the fire was ACTIVE, we’d remain under in pre-evacuation status.

???????????????????????????????If we chose to return, we should leave our cars packed and backed into our driveways ready to pull out again on a moment’s notice. The shelter would remain open for those who did not wish to return.

Tough decision.

Buster and Toby thought we’d moved permanently to the motel in Monte Vista. They’d climb in the car with us and wait patiently while we took our meals at the shelter for evacuees.

Undecided about what to do, after the Friday update, we made the trip to South Fork to check on our house. Smoke greeted us.

Heavy, mask-wearing smoke.

smoke on way home-leftWe left the dogs in the car and did a preliminary inspection. On the hill behind the house, we found a firebreak created by the firefighters.

The black area is the firebreak.
The blank path is the firebreak.

We also realized how many trees and how much dead vegetation we had around our house.???????????????????????????????

Wouldn’t the wise thing be to stay where we were until the fire was more contained?

We took the dogs and went inside. Once we opened the front door, both dogs rushed to sniff around familiar surroundings. Toby jumped on our bed and watched as we discussed what to do.

After eight days in hotel rooms, the place seemed huge. With the windows closed, there was no smoke indoors. We had plenty of room to walk around. A kitchen to prepare healthy meals. Our own bed and pillows.

We decided to wait until after the a.m. briefing on Saturday and make our decision.

But once we returned to the motel, to living out of our suitcase in a cramped space, we knew we’d go home no matter what the report said the next day.

We arrived home around noon Saturday, June 29th, nine days after we’d been told to evacuate. The smoke had lifted some.

By Sunday morning, all smoke had lifted. The dogs and I went on our usual five-mile walk. I was amazed at how normal things looked. You’d never know behind the mountain peak beyond our house nearly 60,000 acres of the West Fork Fire burned. walking 1st wk-left

We were glad we’d come home.

Then just to remind us who was in control, lightning struck a tree two streets away and caused a small fire.

lightning treeA scary sign that, while we might have a roaring inferno behind us, a small lightning strike could start a closer fire.

For two weeks, we kept one car packed with what we wanted to save. The other car ready to be loaded with our clothes, food, and dogs when (if) the next evacuation call came.

Smoke came and went. Aviation planes flew overhead dropping retardant and water buckets, weather permitting.

Now the July monsoons have arrived. The fire crews are shrinking. Few planes are flying.

Yesterday containment was up to 66%.

Today a Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) team arrived to begin their initial assessments of the after effects and develop a strategy for emergency stabilization and rehabilitation.

Same as the BAER team we’re creating defensible space around our house.

We do live in a forest. By choice, our lives center on living with the fire possibility same as we live with the bears, turkeys, and deer.

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We love it!

Fires, bears, squirrels, deer, and all.

7 07, 2013

Life in a Wildfire – Part 2

By |2013-07-07T06:00:50-05:00July 7th, 2013|Life in A Wildfire|3 Comments

We arrived in Trinidad, Colorado, at three in the afternoon on the day of evacuation. We hoped we’d only be there for the weekend.

Unfortunately, the local evening news was not encouraging. We even made the national news.

The morning news offered no better outlook. Things were unchanged. The West Fork portion of the fire was spreading rapidly toward our little town.

Rather than sit in the hotel room or lobby glued to the television for news that was depressing, we decided to explore Trinidad

Lovely, lovely small town that helped divert our thoughts from what was going on.

trinidad

trinidad lake

By Sunday, we were tired of hearing about the fire situation from reporters on location. We needed to see firsthand what was happening. Plus, we’d seen the sites of Trinidad.

Praying the tourist who had come for the weekend would have checked out of motels/hotels closer to South Fork, we checked out of our Trinidad Holiday Inn (Great place to stay if you come up I-25 into Colorado, btw)

We loaded the dogs and suitcases into the car and headed back west to South Fork.

Ironically, there was also a fire burning in La Veta. The mountain pass we needed to cross to get home. Fortunately, there were no road closings.

??????????????????????Communicating between the cars via walkie-talkies, we made the three-hour trip closer to home, hoping to find a place to stay nearer Del Norte, where the Red Cross shelter was set up.

We found a motel in Monte Vista about fifteen minutes away. We also found friends and neighbors who had been there since the evacuation. Seeing friendly faces lightened our spirits.

On our way to check in at the shelter, we stopped by the Del Norte city park to see where news broadcasts were being made.

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Looking at the map and seeing how close the fire actually was to our home did nothing to brighten our spirits.

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My finger is pointing to the location of our house and the advancing West Fork Fire East that was encroaching.  Again the stark reality of our situation sent shock waves through us.

Every morning we went to the Red Cross shelter for breakfast and informational briefings by the firefighter personnel. Pete Blume, Incident Commander, or his second in command went over maps showing the position and progress of three fires and reported on control and containment of the #1 fire in the U.S.

Blume explained that meant that whatever resources were available were at his disposal, but even with all those resources he’d be unable to extinguish the fires that made up the West Fork Fire Complex.

Every day we heard that there was zero containment or control, but that there had been zero structural damage or injuries. That boosted our spirits.

We returned every evening to the shelter for supper provided by the Salvation Army. Those personnel were kind, compassionate, and did everything they could to elevate our stress at the uncertainty of ever being able to return to our homes.

???????????????????????????????On the morning of the sixth day, we went to the shelter hopeful. The night before at supper, we’d heard rumors that the evacuation would be lifted.

Blume reported that a Dozier line had been formed behind Sentinel Peak from CO 149 to CO 160. That backfire line would be ignited if the West Fork blaze moved toward South Fork. He considered that a major step in the right direction. However, the Papoose fire had flared big time over night. He posted pictures from the blaze.

???????????????????????????????The news from Rio Grande County Sheriff Brian Norton was not exactly what we hoped. The mandatory evacuation would be lifted, BUT we would be returning to an active wildfire area.

Uncertainty almost as palatable as the fear when we’d heard the mandatory evacuation order quieted room.

I heard the words “voluntarily returning to an active fire zone” and stared at this picture of the Papoose blaze.

papoose 06-27

The Red Cross shelter would remain open. The Salvation would be offering meals. We had a motel room seventeen miles away.

How could we return to our little house on the mountain knowing a roaring, unpredictable inferno that could easily erupt like the Papoose fire had loomed three peaks away with only a Dozier line to stop it?

Next blog, I’ll share what decision we made.

3 07, 2013

One Word Wednesday – THANKS

By |2017-11-04T20:15:41-05:00July 3rd, 2013|one word Wednesday|2 Comments

It’s closer to July 4th than Thanksgiving, but THANKS has no season.

thank you signMy thanks today goes to the 1,464 firefighters working the West Fork Complex Wildfire burning in my backyard. These men are phenomenal. They leave their homes and families to come put their lives in danger to save our homes and lives.

Their sacrifice is magnified by what happened at the Yarnell Fire in Arizona.

Our  firefighters stopped, remembered those comrades

learning of Yarnell and then went right back into the belly of the fire.

bk to fireMy thoughts and prayers to the fire fighters that lost their lives in Arizona and their families.

After very real threats from the West Fork Fire, more than a week of evacuation, and currently living in a pre-evacuation conditions, there is a lot of gratitude for the hard work from the fire fighters, national guard, red cross, sheriff’s office and other officials for  all the efforts put forth to protect South Fork.

These wildland fire fighters work long hours in difficult and often dangerous conditions on the ground and in the air to provide skilled and professional fire suppression services when wildfires threaten our homes, property, and the natural resources.

Thanks hardly seems enough.

If you’d like to do more, here are some places to donate:

  • Wildland Firefighter Foundation This organization picks up where agencies cannot and assists firefighters and their families
  • South Fork Fire Rescue These guys were first responders when the fire pushed toward our homes. Mail contributions to:
    PO Box 579
    South Fork, CO 81154

All photos are courtesy of the media library provided by the West Fork Complex crew. If you want to view more photos of the West Fork Complex Fire burning in Colorado, click here

1 07, 2013

Life in A Wildfire

By |2013-07-01T18:32:59-05:00July 1st, 2013|Life in A Wildfire|3 Comments

If you read my blog last Wednesday, you know I am now living in the West Fire Complex Wildfire in the Rio Grande National Forest.

Yep, that’s right.  I’m living in a forest wildfire.

West Fork Fire Complex Statistics:   
Start Date: 06/05/2013
Percent Contained: 2%
Cause:  Lightning
Complex Size:  92, 176 acres
                       Windy Pass: 1,416 acres
                       Papoose: 34,272 acres
                       West Fork: 56,488 acres

Pablo Picasso said: “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.”

What fodder the West Fork Complex wildfire is providing this writer!

Our adventure began with the 6 a.m. reverse 911 call on Friday, June 21st, that announced we had to evacuate our home.

Not unexpected. The community meeting the night before had warned of the possibility.

However, possibility is not reality and reality was HARD.

Looking around our little house filled with one third of what we’d had before we moved here in March and knowing we could lose it all sent lumps to our throats and tears to our eyes.

How – beyond the necessary paper documents – do you decide what to load into your cars when you only have four hours? Plus, you’d already downsized considerably to what you wanted or needed.

Wasn’t easy.

We settled on all the quilts my husband’s mother made, a wooden carving of a woman praying my father made for me, some pieces of silver from my mother’s family, a Van Briggle vase titled Lorelei that once belonged to my husband’s sister, two antique clocks, a 1840s porcelain inkwell from Vienna, and a Victorian chatelaine.

Crazy list, right? But, that’s what fit in the small suitcase or around the other stuff in the car. And, each of those items holds precious memories.

We also loaded our laptops and one printer. Tools of our trade that we couldn’t do without.

One of our friends took two of my favorite paintings by Barbara Rudolph, To Kill A Mockingbird and Tell Me A Story to his place in Del Norte until all the danger is gone.

If you’re not familiar with Barbara Rudolph’s work, check out her website. She’s an extremely talented artist who combines objects with birds and creates paintings that capture moments guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. My two pictures have special meaning to me for many reasons, and I can’t wait until I don’t live in a wildfire to get them back.

As we’re packing the cars, firefighters pull our barbeque propane tank and spare gasoline cans to the street. We’d already turned off the propane tank that serves our house and hot water heater. They’re not happy that we have so many trees in our backyard and tell us the outlook isn’t good. We need to leave soon.

We thank them for protecting our home and assure them we are leaving. We never stayed when the Gulf coast hurricane warnings said leave either.

With the two cars loaded with our most precious things and our two four-legged boys, Toby and Buster, we say a prayer for safety and protection, and lock the front door. With the smoke cloud growing, we drive away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlone in my car, I look one last time at our little house and wonder if we’ll ever see it again. Tears I didn’t want to shed in front of my husband come.

CIMG0705But, I remind myself it’s just stuff. A phrase I repeat often over the next week.

We bypassed the Red Cross shelter set up in the Del Norte high school gymnasium fifteen miles away from South Fork. Shelters don’t allow dogs inside with owners.

Facilities for small animals and large animals were available, but I didn’t want to be separated from our pets. We’d find a pet friendly motel.

We went through four towns checking availability. There were no rooms. Alamosa State University in Alamosa offered dormitory rooms, but again we’d have to leave our pets at the facility provided.

We’d gone from a big house full of stuff to a small house full of stuff to two cars with all our worldly belongings. I couldn’t leave my babies behind in Monte Vista.

We kept going until Trinidad, Colorado, nearly four hours away. The Holiday Inn Hotel there had a room and allowed pets. We unpack and settle in for the short duration, we thought.

Toby Buster chilling in Trinidad-2Amazingly, the dogs don’t even bark when we leave to go to the restaurant for dinner. They were too happy to be out of the car and with their humans.

But after a long weekend, we want closer to home so we can find out what’s going on with the fire instead of relying on the media.

Next blog you’ll learn about the next phase of our adventure living in a wildfire.

26 06, 2013

ONE WORD WEDNESDAY-FIRE

By |2013-06-26T19:56:31-05:00June 26th, 2013|one word Wednesday|4 Comments

Why?

Because seven days ago FIRE erupted in my world and things have not been the same since.

Specifically the West Fork Complex East Zone FIRE.

photo

The white is not a cloud but SMOKE.

How it all began:

On June 5, a lightning strike in the San Juan Forest far on the other side of the Continental Divide from our house started a fire in the high elevations.

No reason for raised concern, forest fires in the summer are a common occurrence in Colorado. We live with the smoke and keep going.

Only the major fires like Waldo Canyon last year and most recently the Black Forest Fire receive much national media attention.

Until last Thursday when the San Juan Forest fire did an unprecedented thing—

It jumped the Continental Divide and ignited beetle infested dead trees in the Rio Grande National Forest.

Burning in the high elevations with so much dead fuel, the San Juan Forest fire officially renamed West Complex Fire spread rapidly, uncontrollably.

Too much wind, too high elevations, and too much dead tree fuel to risk the lives of firefighters busy elsewhere protecting homes and lives. Instead, they watched the fire closely.

Then the fire encroached upon our little town of South Fork and the many, many RV and resort camps along Colorado 160 and the Silver Thread Byway (Colorado 149).  Ashes landed on our decks and in our yards, on our houses and cars, and on us.

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That’s the glow from flames taken from our front yard.

Life became scary as residents gathered in the Community Center to get details.

community center2We heard words I’d only heard applied to hurricane evacuations…

our little town of South Fork was under pre-evacuation notice.

My husband and I went home, pulled suitcases, and began loading clothes for a possible temporary stay away from our home.

We gathered all our important papers (already stored in portable boxes according to Bob Mayer’s Green Beret Survival Guide). It’s a super book with lists of what you need to have ready in case of any emergency. Buy your copy here.

All night Friday,  June  21st, we received reverse 911 calls updating us on the status of the evacuation.

At six a.m., the dreaded words came: MANDATORY EVACUATION: be out of our home by 10 a.m. that morning.

Quickly, we loaded our cars with the possessions we wanted to save and began our life at the mercy of the West Complex Fire.

I’ll begin journaling our story as we await word of when (if) we can return to South Fork and our home.

Join me for the journey.

2 07, 2012

Vanishing Time, Scary Fires, and Happy Endings

By |2012-07-02T09:00:46-05:00July 2nd, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

One day I’m writing a blog post and it’s May. Suddenly it’s July 1st.

Where’d June go?

 Life was too busy to even notice, but I can tell you there was a whole lot of moving going on.  We helped our son and his family pack their home and move to Illinois. Then we packed and moved ourselves to Colorado for the summer and fall.

Did you notice the new porch on the blog banner?

 We’re here in our cool little piece of the Rio Grande National Forest.  

We brought two grandsons with us and they stayed for awhile. We had fun hiking  and touring the sites.

Then the boys went to their new home and wildfires erupted throughout Colorado.

We watched via local news as acres and acres of forest burned and hundreds of homes were destroyed. And wept for the people and the animals. Today those families are returning to what’s left of their homes.

The fires are still sad and scary, but thanks to some outstanding firefighters the big Waldo Canyon fire is under control. We’re praying the others will be controlled soon too.

Though we’re safe from forest wildfires for now – the nearest is 50 miles away over the Continental Divide, we’ve had some drama here on the front porch…

Three days ago a couple of summer folk here for the 4th of July stopped by the porch to ask if we had seen their two white Pekingese dogs. The dogs had gotten out of the cabin they rented. The owners couldn’t find them.

We’d only seen them walking with their owners the day before.

My heart broke for the owners and the dogs. I couldn’t imagine losing my four legged babies. Plus, there’s lions, tigers and bears in woods, you know.

We watched for the little white fur balls, but never saw them and feared they were gone forever.

Then today, as we sat on the porch, two kids stopped and asked if we were missing our dogs. Buster and Toby bounded to the fence to greet the kids so they knew we hadn’t.

They said two white dogs had come down off the mountain from the woods behind their grandmother’s place and they were keeping them until they could find the owners.

My dh and I looked at one another. The dogs had to belong to the couple. We lent the kids two leashes and told them where to find the couple. We didn’t know the cabin or house number, only the street.

Those two Good Samaritan  kids went door to door with the little dogs until they found the owners. When the young tween returned the leashes, I told her I would write about the good deed she and her brother had done.

I don’t think she believed me. But what better way to get back on the blogging track than with a happy ending story. I love happy endings.

What about you? Have you had any happy endings lately?