Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Waldo Canyon Fire

       When I last tweeted yesterday, our big fire here in the urban/wildland interface of Colorado Springs seemed to be getting under control. I always sit down about 5:00, have an early supper, and watch the news on TV (I have never become addicted to the internet as a news source).  When I did that, I was astounded to learn that during a news briefing at 4:00 (which I forgot to watch), a spokesman had interrupted the exchange to say that the Mountain Shadows/Peregrine neighborhoods were under a mandatory evacuation order!  Apparently about 1:00 they had issued a pre-evacuation order, which means, get your stuff together and be ready to go.  Then suddenly the wind shifted ...
       Here's what happened according to our local KRDO Channel 13 weatherman (who is one of the best meteorologists I've ever seen anywhere -- his name is Matt Meister).  There was a small thunderstorm northwest of Colorado Springs and it caused an outflow boundary -- rain-cooled air that moves outward from a thunderstorm and can attain high wind speeds.  This outflow reached speeds of 65 mph.  The fire had already gotten into Queen's Canyon.  The home of Colorado Springs' founder, now used as a conference center, is in the lower reaches of that canyon, so the firefighters were working hard to keep the fire from moving down that way.  This new wind pushed the fire up the east slope of the canyon (I've learned that fires tend to move faster uphill and slower downhill) and when it reached the top of the ridge, it burst right over it and moved as a firestorm downhill on the other side -- right into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.
       The fascinating thing was, Channel 13 had sent a reporter and a photojournalist into that area to observe and help out in evacuation, so they were there filming the approach of the fire from close proximity.  It was very dramatic!  The anchors kept saying, "Get out whenever you feel threatened -- we wouldn't have sent you up there if we had known how fast this thing was going to balloon."  Finally, with ash falling all around them, the team left, only to get stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic of evacuees.  The sky at that point was glowing hellish red -- red smoke hiding everything -- mountains totally invisible.  Here's a small clip (it doesn't show the most dramatic parts where you could just see the fires boiling down the slopes):
       In that clip you can see a stable across the road.  There were two horses there, and somebody let them out of the stalls.  Then two men came running in to the house and a sheriff's car stopped nearby, but if anybody knows whether the horses were saved, I haven't heard yet.
       Here are a couple of other YouTube clips made by the public that show the apocalyptic vision of this fire. (this one has some sappy background music but it's still a pretty effective view) (taken from the Air Force Academy; you can see how strong the wind is)    
       It's now about 8:30 AM amd I just heard the morning briefing. The fire has ballooned overnight from 6200 acres to over 15,000 acres! 32,000 people total have been evacuated -- 26,000 just yesterday afternoon and evening.  Up to yesterday, no structures had burned; now scores have burned (they don't know how many yet), but fortunately nobody, not even firefighters, have been injured or killed.   Today a weak cold front is supposed to go through (reducing the temperature from yesterday's all-time record of 101 degrees down to 96!  Some cold front!)  It may also produce more thunderstorms.  Stay tuned as to what that might cause in the way of wind shifts.
       The crux of this fire is that over the years Colorado Springs has expanded heavily into that wildland interface.  These subdivisions are right against the flanks of the Rampart Range, which runs north-south from Colorado Springs up toward Denver.  Everybody wants to live in forested, rugged land, with the wildlife around -- peaceful and beautiful -- and they build expensive houses and gated communities.  Personally, I wouldn't live in that kind of environment!  Give me a nice, civilized, established city neighborhood with streets laid out in the classic grid pattern so you aren't limited to two or three arterial access roads as is the case with these areas that are burning.  I live in the central city, east but not way east.  I think I'm safe.  The fires would have to move south, jump the interstate and Monument Creek, and just roar on through.  Nevertheless, I'm a little nervous.  I haven't really gotten any possessions together, but I'm sure going to keep my flash drive back-up updated.  The contents of my computer is the only thing I would really mind losing!


  1. OMG Lorinda, I had no idea that you life in Co Spr!
    I hope you're still safe... I have friends at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, and they've been under pre-evac orders for 2 days now.

    The pictures are horrifying! Hell on earth!

    1. Hi, Julia, I heard there was a new fire up near Boulder, but we've been a little preoccupied with our local conflagration. Things are a little better today. More humidity and a little cooler, and so far, no big winds, although there are thunderstorms around. The figures are at 8500 acres burned and several hundred houses - they don't know for sure. I never did find out if those horses were rescued! I live on the right side of the Interstate, so I'm OK - so far!