Sunday, June 10, 2012
Burning Up: High Park Fire
Yesterday we were in town around noon and we saw this plume of smoke rising somewhere behind Lory State Park.
We were out for the day, just doing errands, went out to lunch, and were going to meet some people who are moving here from Florida, they are runners and my friend Bob in Fort Lauderdale connected them with us.
From town, it looked like it might be above Rist Canyon. It was a narrow plume of smoke, but it was a hot day, and it was windy.
An hour later it looked like this:
It's called the High Park fire and it is burning under ideal conditions, and the worst conditions for control. There are steep slopes, lots of beetle-killed trees as fuel, thick trees that allow for crown fires to spread, and high winds, high temperatures, and low humidity.
And unfortunately it is burning near some of the most popular and scenic areas for running within an hour's drive of town: Rist Canyon, Old Flowers Road, Buckhorn Canyon, Stove Prairie.
This morning there was soot everywhere, I left the window open in the extra bedroom upstairs and everything had a layer of ash on it.
Then we heard it spread overnight to 8,000 acres, then 14,000, now 20,000 acres. The wind was calm for a while today and the temperatures were much cooler than yesterday, but this afternoon the wind picked up and now the sky is getting dark again. The winds have picked up to 25 mph too.
Not a good morning for running, when you can see the soot drifting down from the sky. Might as well light a cigarette. Without a filter.
This morning I went to Walmart to do my pre-Mickelson shopping. I didn't have to get very much stuff, and then I came home.
I waited until noon when the sky was clearing over the south part of Fort Collins, and went for a bike ride, for about an hour. The air was bettter but I could still smell the smoke. Northwest of town looked like a huge storm was sitting there, but it was the fire.
I bagged the running plans for the day and finished all the obligations I had before I leave on my trip. I'll get plenty of miles in next week. I just heard there's a fire in Wyoming that, depending on the winds, could easily cause air quality problems in the Black Hills. Looks like it will be that kind of year.
Right now the sky is turning all kinds of colors. The sun has been all different hues of red and pink and purple tonight. One thing about the iPhone camera is that it doesn't pick up on those colors. And my old digital camera doesn't work well anymore. I did my best to capture the colors. It turns everything orange, the light on the house, shining through the windows, it all has an orange-pink cast to it. Unfortunately it smells like an ashtray.
It looked pretty cool, the small magenta globe of the sun behind the gray-green cottonwood leaves and white branches. But I couldn't get a picture. Might have to paint it instead.
It doesn't look promising for any sort of containment of this fire, given the conditions as we head into the night. The wind has shifted south, the soot is back and I had to close the windows again. There are lots of evacuations and more to come in the foothills west of town.
This summer could be a challenging one for running if we keep having fires, the air quality is going to be another huge issue.
This is a price we pay for living so close. Nearly everyone who lives in the foothills has a choice about where they live, and this is one of the hazards of living here. It's unfortunate but this year the fire danger is obviously higher than ever.
We don't know yet what caused it but the last big fire was human-caused, just a few weeks ago, and it's been contained for a while but is still burning in a small area, just across the canyon from this new fire. It's sad when you find out that it was someone's poor judgement that caused a huge disastrous fire.
You can't be careful enough in these conditions. A few weeks ago right after the Hewlett Gulch fire started, I was driving to Estes Park to escape the smoke, and on my way up Big Thompson Canyon, there was a car on the road that had sparks coming out of it's muffler.
And then there's always lightning which can't be controlled, and the fuel conditions, which can be manipulated somewhat but when you have the beetle kill we've had over the past decade or so, it's only a matter of time.
Whatever the cause, fire is always a possibility up here, and this year it's here to stay.