My experience of wildfire season

This post started out as an email to family and friends.  The Cameron Peak fire in northern Colorado exploded over Labor Day weekend.  It was holding at approximately 22,000 acres through late August and into September and then a combination of high winds and extremely dry conditions created a 102,000 acre monster.  [I didn’t know that largest size number until after I sent the email.]  Having lived most of my life in the Midwest and upper Great Plains, I had no real understanding of how stressful these situations are for everyone: homeowners, firefighters, sheriff’s departments, evacuation coordinators, etc.  And it’s not a sudden event, quickly ended.  It goes on for weeks…

Well, we dodged a bullet last night.  And now that the stress is bleeding off.  I'm quivering like a struck tuning fork.  Wow.  I have new proof that stress is tiring.  We've had light rain and now the snow is starting.  Whew.

Dick and I worked all day yesterday on some safety measures around the house that I had not yet gotten done plus some other projects.

We watched the smoke/clouds come "up the sky" over our heads in the morning and then it just kept getting smokier and smokier.  Hard on the sinuses and the lungs.  

Our chimney cleaning guy came about 10 am to sweep out our chimney and I was visiting with him.  He told me that the fire had grown from 34,000 acres to 60,000 acres OVERNIGHT.  [Windy.]  My jaw dropped open.  Basically, as it turned out, the fire nearly tripled in size in 24 hours - from 30+ thousand acres to now over 96,000.  I don't know how many miles it advanced in that time period, but it was a bunch.

We signed up for a text alert system through Larimer County and the notices just kept coming faster and faster.  First it was up north of us (somewhere us newbies didn't recognize), then it was Red Feather Lakes, and then about 3:00 they put on a voluntary evacuation order for Glen Haven and Storm Mountain.  Oops, that's us.

Along the lines of "if you are worried or have health issues, go now; consider getting animals and pets to safety, etc."  Meanwhile the email chain on the mountain is blowing up with emails about what should we do, etc.  The woman in our community who passes along red flag warning bulletins and who is the voice of reason, evacuated.  She lives at the end of a long, winding road, heavily forested.  But still...

Dick and I agreed that we would stay until a mandatory evac order was put on.  After all, we were virtually entirely packed.  We needed to load the pets, grab our laptops and ourselves and go.  We planned to not go to bed without putting laptops, etc in our vehicles in case we had to leave in the middle of the night.

About 7:30 pm (?) there was an email that the sheriff was going to send people up the mountain for a "this is the only warning you will get" kind of house-to-house visit.  I thought it might be a rumor.  Then there were reports of an entire fleet of sheriff's vehicles heading up Storm Mountain Road - these from credible sources.  I figured they were headed up to the upper filings to warn the folks who were closest to the fire.  (I was right about that.)  Then a guy emails our community that the deputies told him that the fire was now 5 miles away, that it had turned and was headed our direction.  The wind had died down at this point, but still...

Decided it was time to check the forecast.  Drat.  The rain had been forecast to start at 10 pm.  Now it was pushed back to 2 am.  Now, I realized, we were in a bit of a race - which was going to arrive first?  The mandatory evacuation order or the rain/snow?  I figured the fire still had a ways to go or the evac order would already be mandatory, but still...

Worked a bit on my laptop - uploading photos of the contents of our house to Google Drive.  I had uploaded a lot of my most important computer files and photos a couple of weeks ago, but the fire had essentially stopped growing for about a week and I relaxed.

Our community email group was now getting minute-by-minute updates from people "the sheriff was just at our house," "the sheriff was just here - said the evacuation was voluntary at this point, etc."  I watched the emails as they came down the mountain and got into our area.  Decided to fight being sleepy and stay up.  Dick was already in bed, since he is on a schedule of getting up at 3 am to go to work early-early.  (He wasn't working the next day fortunately.)  I made several trips out to the Subaru.  Packed up my "active" painting supplies.  Packed up a painting (!) that I've sold but haven't yet shipped.  (Can you guess why?)  Loaded some of our refrigerated goods in a couple of grocery bags so we could "grab and go."

When the sheriffs were reported in our immediate neighborhood, and then when I saw their flashing lights just down the road, I shut down the laptop and took it and a couple of other things out to the Subaru.  As I came back out of the garage, a sheriff's deputy pulled in our yard.  He just checked that we knew about the voluntary evacuation order.  I said yes, and that we were essentially all packed and ready to go at the drop of a hat.  He said good.  I asked him if we should put a sign on the door to let them know that we were out of the house if it came to that.  He said yes.  He left.  I went inside.  It's not yet 10 pm.  I head to bed.  Really tired.  Not at all sure whether we are going to be evacuating or staying here to throw snowballs in the morning.

And that, as they say, is the rest of the story.  I'm whacked.  The dog is thrilled (he loves snow.)  The cat is not.  Dick and I are pulling a few of our day to day things out of the vehicles.  But this is, in all likelihood, not over.  This is a respite.  It remains to be seen how much of the fire is knocked down.  From what I've read, it won't be put out by this, but it will be slowed down.  If it gets hot and windy we could go through it all over again.  Wow.  I have a visceral understanding now of what the people in California, for example, go through - practically on a yearly basis.  The anxiety, the planning, the preparations, the fears.  Watching those gripping TV newscasts from my safety in the Midwest just didn't quite do it.

Oh well.  We are fine.  I'm just about up to the mental level of watching TV all day!     Sorry for the "gang" email, but I wanted to send a more complete accounting without having to type it a dozen times.

Hug whoever is close to you,


P.S.  11 am text update from Larimer County emergency folks: the mandatory evacuation orders they put on yesterday for several areas have now been downgraded to voluntary.  So the modest rain and snow is having the desired effect.  They tell people they will have to prove they live in the area to re-enter.  Emergency crews are still active.  But we can all breathe easier!  Grateful.  Relieved.  Grateful.