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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.











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 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.


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


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.

26 06, 2013


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


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.


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.


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.