Spring Wildfire 2018

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Over the years I have written several blogs on wildfire preparation. Nothing however prepares a person for the real thing. We just went through the Spring Fire in Southern Colorado. We were evacuated for two weeks and when able to return to our home we were happy that it was intact but sad for the environment and our neighbors. It was the third largest wildfire in Colorado history. The reality of going through a wildfire and writing about one without having that experience is very different. This wildfire burned hotter than anything the fire commander said he had seen in his 30 years of fighting wildfires. It consumed 160,000 acres and reduced 134 homes to ashes within our community.  

Evacuation The Sensible Action

Anyone who has not experienced a wildfire of this magnitude really can’t imagine how the trauma affects your mental status. We had minutes to evacuate which was harrowing in itself, driving out being showered with embers and flames on each side of the road with thick smoke. Then suddenly we were out and headed for a motel room with our three large German Shepherd dogs which were confused and bewildered exacerbating our situation. Our senior canine family members simply did not understand what was going on. They were not interested in food and just wanted to be close to us.

Hot Spots And Food Contamination

When we finally were allowed to visit our property for the first time (a 1 ½ hour visit) after one week, we then had to leave again which confused them even more. I spent my time on our visit putting out hot spots that had not been addressed around our property. In that limited amount of time we had to empty our refrigerator and our chest freezer which both contained spoiled food.    

Misting Systems Did Not Work

In an earlier blog I mentioned a misting system for wildfire mitigation. The misting system worked just fine until the firefighters pulled the plug on our electricity. It seems that is standard procedure so they will not have to work around downed live electric wires. That makes perfect sense to me because the electrical grid had power poles burned off and wires were down everywhere which would make it dangerous for firefighters on the ground. Since the misting system works off our deep well it stopped working when the electricity was cut; therefore it was of no preventative benefit. If we had a backup generator that would automatically come on when power is out it would probably work under those circumstances, otherwise it is a useless investment.

Subtle Mental Issues

We evacuated under scary circumstances and spent two weeks at two different motels. Our fur family was disoriented and upset and as it turns out so were we but we didn’t realize it at the time. It was so subtle that we didn’t recognize what was happening to us. When we returned home we had trouble sleeping, we were unable to focus on a task, we were confused easily and we were irritable. It wasn’t until we figured out that we were super stressed from the situation that we even realized what was happening to us. The more we got into our routine the more we returned to our normal self. The emotional toll did have an adverse effect on us both mentally and emotionally and we didn’t even recognize it was impacting us.

Service Agencies And Outside Help  

The Red Cross, other service agencies, church groups, coupled with our county officials, the firefighting teams and national guard members, were nothing short of phenomenal. The help we received from family/friends that lived far away was also extremely beneficial. Upon permanently returning home however was when the true reality actually set in. Driving to our property and seeing the miles and miles of devastation left us speechless. Our community had 134 homes reduced to ashes with twisted metal roofing piled on top of ashes. The fire was so intensely hot there was nothing left to sift through or recover. Trees had been reduced to black sticks pointing upward; the ground grey/black ash and the smell was arid.

Fire Devil

Less than a quarter mile from our home there was evidence of a fire devil (tornado of fire) which ripped trees out of the ground and broke others off mid-way up.  Our mountain community where trees have slow growth rates was now changed forever with ashes blown by the wind. It was disorienting and coupled with the black sticks that used to be trees and the grey ground, the landscape will be changed for a very long time and now looks like some alien planet.

Mudslides And Other Hazards

Following wildfires – especially in the mountains – come mudslides. Ash and dirt turn into flash floods running downhill when it  rains carrying large rocks and debris where it ultimately affects the roads by causing washouts or piles up. Damage and destruction does not stop when the fire is put out. Trees are burned at the base and are precariously standing until a gust of wind blows them over. There are ash pits that used to be a tree stump or tree roots that burned down into the ground leaving a hole with ash in it.  We now have trees falling every day and it is not safe being in the woods. Some ash pits are deep and we have to be very careful not to step into one.

Conflicting Feelings

We still have our home when so many in our community have lost their homes along with everything they owned. That adds to the mental confusion we have as we are happy and sad all at the same time. I don’t believe that any of us will ever be able to ignore the black sticks that used to be trees or the black/grey ash that washed down the mountain and settled where a clear sparkling stream which held native cutthroat trout once existed. The loss of wildlife and its habitat is mind boggling but some animals and birds have returned and are staying close to our small oasis of green.

Experiencing a wildfire is a very traumatic event and something I hope we don’t ever experience again, even though I realize that is unlikely. Even as I write this there are other devastating wildfires across the western states destroying the environment, wildlife, human life and property. It definitely changes a person both emotionally and their lifestyle; it is a very traumatic occurrence. With the telltale visual aftermath it remains a constant reminder of what a wildfire can do to the environment and us.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and for more photos of the wildfire visit their blog site at:www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com

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