Tuesday, June 19, 2012

UPDATE: Colorado Wildfires, near Fort Collins, CO

by Maggie Sefton

Thank you for all your supportive comments, everyone.  I sincerely appreciate them.  And I thought I would give you an update on the Wildfire’s progress near Fort Collins, Colorado. 

We do have good news, lots of good news to report, as well as sad news, too.  There are now over 1600 firefighters here in Fort Collins assigned to the “High Park Wildfire,” and the fire is now 45% contained as of Monday morning, June 18th.  Unfortunately, the wildfire has now grown to over 54,000 acres, and 181 homes have been lost.

But. . .here’s the good news. . .thanks to the bravery of these courageous firefighters, the majority of all the homes threatened have been spared.  Firefighters did an unbelievable job of saving homes in neighborhoods all over our canyons.  We heard that early after the fire’s discovery near Rist Canyon Saturday, June 9th,  wind-whipped flames shot over a ridge and advanced down into Poudre Canyon on the other side.  This is the Cache La Poudre Canyon which I mention in the Kelly Flynn mysteries, and it really is a National Wilderness Area.  You can imagine the horror of the five volunteer firefighters---men and women---who were standing guard over the little village of Poudre Park.  The rest of the fire station crew was helping fight the fire in Rist Canyon. 

Those five firefighters fought that wildfire as it swept down the ridge in a horseshoe shape, threatening to destroy their homes as well as their neighbors.  They put themselves between the flames over and over and over again, beating back the two-pronged fire as it attacked their neighbor’s homes.  For hours.  Just the five of them.  They did an amazing job.  Only a handful of homes were lost. 

This week has been filled with stories like that.  And with happier stories, too.  Whole neighborhoods that had been evacuated were allowed to return.  Their homes untouched, thanks to firefighters brave efforts.   In fact, the vast majority of evacuated neighborhoods have been able to be re-opened.  Traces of the wildfire’s path is visible here and there, in a scarred hillside.  But scarred hillsides can re-generate.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, wildfires do NOT burn everything in their path.  They burn capriciously, here and there, and leave whole ridges and hills untouched.  Houses intact. 

The three blazes I saw igniting last Monday morning as I looked across into Fort Collins from the  interstate were jumped on immediately.  The first arrival of the additional Hot Shots firefighters had arrived and they pounced on those flames, beating them back until they were out.  I’ve driven the roads following the western edge of Fort Collins, and there is no evidence of burned hillsides until the very northern edge of the city.  And only a few sections of hillsides are blackened.  The vast majority are untouched.  As I said, here and there.

Alas. . .some of our neighborhoods in Rist Canyon and in lower sections of Poudre Canyon did lose homes.  Rist Canyon (which I call Belleview Canyon in the Kelly Flynn novels) was the hardest hit, losing most of the Davis Ranch Road subdivisions and the Whale Rock subdivisions of homes.  I have been in both areas, and there were lovely homes there in beautiful mountain surroundings.  It’s heartbreaking to know they’re gone.  As well as other areas, dotted here and around those canyons.  We have canyons all over Northern Colorado, large and small.

As of now, the fire is still burning on the western side of the burn area, where it is very rugged, steep terrain, no homes, but with plenty of pine bark beetle-killed trees as tinder.  They are burning fast.  So----this fire will be blazing for quite a while, especially since the high heat (nearly 100 Monday) and the wind gusts can blow and whip up the flames.  Please keep all of us in Colorado who are fighting wildfires in your thoughts and prayers.  We appreciate it.