High Park Fire Update in Northern Colorado - A Distraction
Tonight marks the 7th day since we were evacuated from our Little House on the Poudre due to the High Park fire in Northern Colorado. To call this a distraction is an understatement of phenomenal proportion. We were able to leave our home with our dog, his toys and kennel, our portable electronics, some clothes, official documents, a few sentimental items, my fishing gear, and some power tools (we had much of this already gathered from an evacuation order 3 weeks prior).
We knew the fire had been advancing quickly but it didn’t seem anyone knew just how fast. By 10:30 Saturday night the fire had been devouring timber at a rate better than a mile an hour and was closing in on our section of the canyon. Just before 11 p.m. our power flickered – then went out. Several minutes later, our old-style phone rang* with a reverse 911 call notifying us that the fire was advancing rapidly in our area and that we should leave immediately. In pitch blackness, we scrambled to find our flashlights, lit some candles, and set about loading our vehicles and preparing to leave. In 30 minutes we left our little log home with the ominous glow of the fire just beyond the ridge of the canyon.
Once we reached Ted’s Place (a local landmark just beyond the mouth of the canyon and just 7 miles from our house). We parked there along with many other evacuees to look back at the foothills and watched that eerie glow of the fire increase in intensity until we saw it crest the 2nd ridge and engulf everything in flames that were likely 200 feet high. I shot this video with my iPhone and is a composite of how the fire advanced in the span of just 15 minutes. We knew our home was just below that inferno and watched silently as it continued to burn brightly. We made phone calls to immediate family members to let them know we were okay, looked one last time back toward the canyon aglow with fire and drove into town not sure what we would find the next time we came back.
We have been trying to live our lives as normally as possible but amidst the regular email updates from the Sheriff’s department, live news reports, endless Facebook posts, and the texts and voicemails of concerned friends, family, and colleagues, the distractions mount to the point where normal productivity comes to a slow crawl. Amazingly, my wife and I were able to put one of our listings under contract, negotiate an offer on a 2nd listing, and showed property to clients we’ve been working with for several weeks. After all, as independent contractors, it’s not like we can take personal time and still expect to get paid. But that’s not the only reason we have continued to work at our real estate practice every day. Industry and busy-ness keeps worry and anxiety safely at arm’s length.
For 6 days we didn’t know if our house was still standing or not. Now, don’t get me wrong. We love our place up the canyon but we are also super pragmatic and well-insured. If it burns down – we’ll rebuild, no question (it has been kind of fun to think about how and what we’d rebuild). If the place escapes relatively unscathed – we’ll move back in, no question. The most taxing aspect of this whole process is dealing with uncertainty. Is the house a pile of ashes? Worse, is it still standing but so smoke-damaged as to be unlivable? Is it just fine and as soon as power is restored and the fire around us extinguished we’ll just move back in? I’ve tried desperately to set these questions aside and just ‘keep calm and carry on’ as the phrase goes.
Last night, a bedraggled and weary fire chief, still in his soot-stained yellow & green hot-shot garb, entered the evacuee briefing room to a standing ovation. The physical and emotional toll of the last 6 days spoke volumes as he worked to maintain his composure to speak to the small crowd of evacuees from the district his department serves. His job was to notify anxious inhabitants about the status of their homes. The chief, Carl Solley, lives in the lower Poudre and many of the expectant faces in this crowd are his neighbors and friends. All in all, 17 homes were destroyed by the fire in just our area alone – most of which were lost in the first hour and a half after the evacuation order. As he went through the list of addresses identifying them as burned/not burned, one gentleman stood up with a look of complete vacancy and wandered out of the room. His house had been completely destroyed.
Another tiny, elderly widow named Yoko, who has lived in the canyon for the last 10 years (5 of them all alone), has a home in one of the most remote areas of the lower Poudre. The chief (who called her out by name) informed her that, by sheer miracle, her house was untouched. The chief even mentioned that it was too dangerous to send his crews to try and save it but by some fluke, the flames avoided it.
On and on, structure by structure, each person learned the fate of their house. At one point, choking back emotion, the chief talked about the efforts of his volunteer crew that risked their lives to save properties and lives in a fire that he said in 35 years of firefighting is the most aggressive and intense he has ever seen. Following another standing ovation, the chief finished his report and my wife and I were relieved to learn that our house is still standing and was entirely spared by the brunt of the flames. It will likely be days or even weeks before we may be allowed back in to survey our property and the destruction around us. Yes, to call this disastrous fire a distraction is a tremendous understatement.
*old style phones run off the low-voltage electricity in the phone line itself, therefore when power goes out, you may still have phone service. A good reason to have at least one phone in the house of this variety.