“I’m moving to Louisville. I want to get away from the wildfire danger up here in Nederland.”
This is what my neighbor said several years ago when you sold her house. Now I wonder if she even has a home anymore.
It’s horrific — 991 homes lost in the blink of an eye over just a few hours. As I watched the horror unfold, it seemed surreal. This happens all the time in the mountains, but in the suburbs near Boulder? Never.
Or so people thought.
As soon as my husband said, “I just got a notification there’s a fire near Highway 93”, I knew it was going to be really bad. The winds had been gusting all day – there was a red flag warning. This is exactly what it was like during the Fourmile Canyon Fire.
As a park ranger trained in wildland firefighting, I know there is nothing you can do to contain a fire during conditions like this. Nothing will stop the fire. Authorities talked about the fire burning a football field a second. All you can do is try to get out of the way and get to safety.
My father lives in a senior facility in the area now. The way that fire was moving, I knew unless the winds subsided he would be in grave danger. But it was impossible to get through to the staff where he lives. Like others who live in Superior and Louisville, there seemed to be a false sense of security. We’re down here where it’s safe on the plains. It’s you mountain folks that have to worry about wildfires.
I called and called. Wrote emails. “I’m a former wildland firefighter, you need to evacuate NOW.” They were waiting. Waiting to find a place to take the residents, waiting to get buses. Somehow I couldn’t get through to them the urgency of the situation.
We have evacuated three times from our home in Nederland. The last time, we were so organized, we were out of there in 10 minutes. Both my husband and I have the precious mementos stored in two boxes. Pets – check. Go bag – check. Fire boxes – check. Important documents – check. Laptop computers – check. Artwork and photos – check.
Out the door and into the cars.
I wanted to say to ask the staff, “What would you do if the building was on fire?” That is the type of urgency that is needed when a firestorm is bearing down on you. Get all the staff people together and have them each take 3-4 residents in their cars. Go to the nearest emergency shelter. Then figure out longer term arrangements if necessary.
It can never happen to me. That’s what everyone was thinking.
This will not be the last time a fire threatens a suburban area in Colorado. With climate change, this is the new normal. All we can do is adapt, and realize a wildfire can strike anywhere.
For all the folks living on the plains, us mountain folks are willing to impart of experience and wisdom on this issue. We all feel deep compassion for those of you who’ve lost your homes, and there are plenty of survivors of Fourmile Canyon, Cold Springs and the Calwood wildfires who can walk you through the next steps.
But we must learn from these experiences and all plan for future wildfires NOW.