High Park Fire Update in Northern Colorado - A Distraction

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Elevations Real Estate, LLC www.BuyFortCollinsHomes.com

High Park Fire Update in Northern Colorado - A DistractionLittle House on the Poudre

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.Firefighter

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.  Hot Shot Crew

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. 

High Park FireAnother 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. 

Click here for a link to a news story talking about my brave neighbors who are volunteer firefighters in our area of the canyon.


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Mary Greenberg
New Paradigm Partners - Fort Collins, CO - Greeley, CO
Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate

Hi Chris - Great to hear your home is still standing and at the same time very sad for those who lost theirs!  Looks like rain maybe coming - hopefully no lightning!

Jun 15, 2012 04:50 AM #1
Dick Greenberg
New Paradigm Partners LLC - Fort Collins, CO
Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate

Hi Chris - You and Pat have held up amazingly well in the midst of the confusion and uncertainty surrounding this tragedy, and that's an incredible story you have shared with all of us. I glad your home has made it through, and that hpefully soon, you'll be able to go back and have a normal life again. Our hearts go out to those who have lost everything, as well as those who still face the threat of this fire's spread and those who have yet to learn what has happened. And our thanks to those incredibly dedicated and brave firefighters who have worked so hard to save lives and minimize the damage. Hang in there!

Jun 15, 2012 04:51 AM #2
John McCormack
Albuquerque Homes Realty * www.AlbuquerqueHomes.com - Albuquerque, NM
AlbuquerqueHomes.com, Albuquerque Homes Realty

Glad you and Pat are okay and you're home is still standing.  We've been keeping up with your area via the news and Dick's posts.  Stay safe my friend.

Jun 15, 2012 04:55 AM #3
Anna Banana Kruchten CRB, CRS, Broker
Phoenix Property Shoppe - Phoenix, AZ
Arizona's Top Banana of Real Estate!

Chris your story gives me chills. This is what it's really like to go through a fire.....scary. To think of what you, all the other evacuuess and the hard working firemen are going through.  I love your attitude - if it burns we'll re-build and mover forward. Thankfully you're all safe.  I hope you can get back home sooner rather than later.


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Jun 15, 2012 05:45 AM #4
David Shamansky
US Mortgages - David Shamansky - Highlands Ranch, CO
Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg

WOW  what a story and what an incredible ending for you. Besides the miracle of your place making it to be able to be blessed with business and to be able to tend to it while this is going on is impressive. Peace and prayers to you and all your neighbors and those working and risking their lives to stop this fire!


Jun 15, 2012 11:45 AM #5
Richard Weisser
Richard Weisser Realty - Newnan, GA
Richard Weisser Retired Real Estate Professional


Wow, glad to hear that your house is still standing but this is a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Featured in the Group "Whacked!!! and suggested for AR feature.

Jun 15, 2012 02:05 PM #6
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORSĀ® in Clark County, WA

Suggested Chris, this is a powerful, powerful post and I am so glad you are safe and well. I'm happy your house was spared too, but appreciate your empathy regarding your neighbors who weren't so lucky. You remain in our thoughts.

Jun 16, 2012 02:30 AM #7
Chris Hardy
Elevations Real Estate, LLC www.BuyFortCollinsHomes.com - Fort Collins, CO
Northern Colorado Real Estate

Thanks so much for all your kind words and good thoughts.  It appears some good progress has been made and we are hopeful we can go home in the next few days.  It is still fairly dicey up there and unpredictable so we're definitely keeping our fingers crossed!

Jun 16, 2012 09:32 AM #8
Lloyd Binen
Certified Realty Services - Saratoga, CA
Silicon Valley Realtor since 1976; 408-373-4411

Chris, Thanks for the post.  Glad you're safe and your great attitude will help you through this horrific tragedy.  As Dick said, our hearts go out to those residents who lost homes and all their belongings.

Jun 16, 2012 10:06 AM #9
Flory Peterson

Chris and Pat,

I am soo glad you guys and your home is safe.  This fire has put so many things in prospective of what is truly important in life. My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes and memories. Thank you for the updates

Jun 17, 2012 03:44 AM #10
Tim Solley

Chris, nicely put, and I'm very glad your home is OK. I recognize the photo of your house up top, and know exactly where it is.  It turns out you're one of Carl Solley's near neighbors.

Chief Solley is my dad, and I've had a front row seat to his 35 year career as a firefighter. Of all the stories I've heard since I was a young boy, this one hits home more than any other. I lived through a wildfire myself when I was younger.  That pales in comparison to this fire. It is a true monster.

Growing up the son of a firefighter, you tend to view professional firefighters as the, well, pros.  But I'm seeing a whole new side to this coin this week.  The people who saved your home and many of your neighbors' homes are volunteers.  You have an amazing group of dedicated individuals in the canyon.

What they experienced last Saturday night when the fire first came down into the canyon was breathtaking.  No one knew it was so close, and they took that fire head-on without any support.  It moved so fast that the national incident management team was still getting their bearings. It's truly amazing that they only lost 17 homes.  One home caught fire three separate times and was put out each time by the team.  It is burned, but intact.  It is now known as the "cat house", and it only has 5 lives left.

Thanks for chronicling your experience.  I'll be sure to pass this article on to my dad, he will appreciate your post. I know that the citizen briefing you speak of here was a very emotional experience for all. I was there to see him break good and bad news to many of the canyon residents. With the fire continuing to grow, he's not done, and it is indeed wearing.

Here's to hoping you're back in your home soon.  Bring lots of Formula 409 with you when you return; your fridge is going to need it.

Jun 18, 2012 07:35 AM #11
Chris Hardy
Elevations Real Estate, LLC www.BuyFortCollinsHomes.com - Fort Collins, CO
Northern Colorado Real Estate

Wow, Tim!  Thank you so much for your comments.  I'm sure you know Jon and Rachel Schneider.  Rachel's facebook post last Monday spoke of the 'Cat House' and the work that team of just 15 people did and spurred my newstip to 9 News.  This has been humbling to say the least and we are possessed with gratitude that is immeasurable and will take a lifetime to demonstrate.  You must be so proud of your Dad.  I don't know him personally - but aim to change that as soon as circumstances allow.  Thank you so much!

Jun 18, 2012 07:49 AM #12
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Chris Hardy

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