Posts Tagged ‘High Park Fire’

Once again, our hamlet of Poudre Park in the northern Colorado Rockies is confronted by a forest fire.

This time it’s the Seaman Fire, named after the nearby Milton Seaman Reservoir. The fire was started by a September 11 lightning strike from a minor rainstorm that swooped by us so fast we hardly noticed it.

As I write this article, helicopters are flying overhead. Their temporary landing base is atop a small rise at the mouth of Hewlett Gulch, a popular hiking trail beginning a quarter of a mile from us. About 120 firefighters are working to contain the fire that burned 230 acres by this morning. Three air tankers and three helicopters have been assigned to drop water and slurry on the fire.

Ring of fire: The glowing of the Seaman Fire on a mountainside reflects off the Cache la Poudre River. Photo by the U.S. Forest Service.

As forest fires are measured, this one isn’t big—yet. The fire is on uninhabited land a little more than a mile away. On the mountains, meadows, and gulches between here and there, the vegetation of ponderosa pines, sagebrush, and tall grasses is extremely dry.

The fire seems far away, but a swift, steady breeze could have it here within minutes. Our community has woefully learned that lesson before.

We were surprised in 2012 by the sudden blazing arrival of the High Park Fire, which burned 87,284 acres through the mountains, killed a woman and destroyed 259 homes. It was the second largest fire in Colorado’s recorded history.

In that fire, too, we thought we were far enough away to be safe. A lightning strike started the fire in Rist Canyon to the south. Eight miles of forested wilderness separate us from Rist Canyon.

On a night shortly after the High Park Fire started, Patty and I were awakened by the vigorous clanging of a wind chime outside the bedroom window. I climbed out of bed to get a drink of water and noticed lights were on at the volunteer firehouse across the dirt road from us. Bleary-eyed and donned in my jammies, I wandered over there to see what was going on.

Two of my neighbors, both volunteer firefighters, stood outside the firehouse, looking south at the mountains that start only a few dozen steps away. The southern sky beyond those mountaintops was illuminated reddish-orange from the fire that we thought was miles away.

I yawned. “Fire coming our way?” I asked.

“No, it’s still over in Rist Canyon,” one of the firefighters replied. “That’s the last that we heard, anyway.”

Feeling safe, we chatted for a couple of minutes. The wind had turned slow and pleasant, but, since Poudre Park is in a valley surrounded by mountains, it was brisk along the higher elevations.

Suddenly, a 100-foot wall of flames leaped over Little Mountain in front of us—that’s the name of the smallest of the mountains surrounding Poudre Park. At the same time, a rumbling roar came from the direction of Rainbow Ridge, a large forested mountain a quarter of a mile away at the eastern end of the valley. We call it Rainbow Ridge because it’s long arching shape resembles the curvature of a rainbow. It’s also where beautiful rainbows appear during late-afternoon rain showers.

The roaring rapidly intensified until it sounded like a clattering freight train. A blaze of fire the size of a football field erupted at the south end of Rainbow Ridge. The wind shoved the heat northward and another large area of the mountainside suddenly ignited. The fire continued to hop-scotch hundreds of yards at a time.

By then, the valley was bright as day. I rushed back to the house and told Patty we’re out of here right way. She dressed quickly and grabbed a few items. The electricity suddenly went out. I found my wallet and car keys, and we rushed out. I was still in my jammies. As I closed our front door, I wondered if I should even bother locking it. I was sure our home would soon be gone.

All of our neighbors fled. The Poudre Canyon Highway, which runs along the south side of the valley, was blocked by fire to the west. The only escape route was east along the foot of Rainbow Ridge. By the time we reached there, the fire had flowed down the mountainside and was raging along the roadside. We could feel the heat as we sped by.

Our community was evacuated for three weeks. Seven homes in gulches on either side of Poudre Park were destroyed. Our community, though, was saved by 11 brave volunteer firefighters who kept the blaze from crossing the highway and burning Poudre Park.

This is the memory that comes to mind today as I listen to helicopters. Wildfires are tragedies that others in our nation have experienced, especially in California and the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure people thought they, too, were safe—in the beginning when a fire seemed a long way away.

But, as with many things in our lives, our fortunes can change in a moment. We should cherish what we have—families, homes, and life itself—because it could all go away. All it takes is shifting of the wind.



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The Poudre River has run black for days now.

On the rare occasions when the water is clear, you can see thick layers of black soot covering the rocks and sand on the river bottom.

Flash floods and mudslides have come and gone, and will be back.

As I write this blog, the lower Poudre Canyon highway is closed due to a mudslide. A car tried to bull through and is stuck in black goo.

In anticipation of more flash floods and mudslides, Poudre Park residents filled sandbags Saturday and placed them at strategic locations around homes in the community. Photo by Gwen Solley.

On Saturday, residents of the mountain hamlet of Poudre Park came out en masse to fill 2,000 sandbags and place them strategically to protect homes from flash floods. This went on until we ran out of bags and sand. More are coming today.

The sandbagging was prompted by a Friday afternoon heavy rainstorm that caused flash floods to come off the soot-blackened mountainsides.

Residents of Falls Gulch, where five homes were lost in the High Park Fire, are at the most risk. It’s a narrow gulch, just ripe for flash floods, at the east end of Poudre Park. To learn more, go to the blog for the Poudre Canyon Fire Protection District.

These are some of the aftermaths of the High Park Fire in northern Colorado.

Most of us who live in Poudre Canyon and nearby Rist Canyon never considered what would happen in Nature after the firestorm that devastated forests and homes.

We were too busy evacuating and living homeless from June 9 to the first few days of July. Since then, people who lost their homes—almost 300 gone in Rist and Poudre canyons and Glacier View—have been swamped with the mind-boggling details of rebuilding or relocating, starting lives over again.

Those of us lucky enough to have homes to return to hadn’t considered the real possibility of flash floods and mud slides. There were soot-covered couches and refrigerators full of spoiled food to worry about.

What’s happening now is quite simple, an act of Nature:

The annual Southwest Monsoon, which usually comes in June, decided to wait until July this year. Typically, the monsoon rains are refreshing and welcomed as they move aside the summer heat.

Since June 30, the daily monsoon, which comes north from the Gulf of Mexico, has brought afternoon and evening storms. The rain falls on mountains once covered with thick pine forests, wild grasses and sagebrush that helped the moisture soak in.

Now that trees and vegetation are gone, the rain makes its own path down the mountains, flowing into little gullies and then into gulches, filling up and overflowing culverts along the highway and rushing into the river.

The highway shoulders, in many places, are just like the river: black with soot. The Colorado Department of Transportation has vigorously fought to move aside the black mud that keeps coming onto the byway.

This is the way life has been. Today’s weather forecast: more rain.

And more black sooty mud.

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