April 30, 2011

Two Crazy Days, Part 1: "It's Blowing Up"

Friday started poorly. I did not even get to have my morning cup of coffee—nor were the dogs fed on time.

I had just returned from their pre-breakfast walk when the telephone rang—a fire call—a new fire, this one on private land. I quickly dressed for it, laced up my boots, and was out the door, and, intercepting our brush truck down at the junction, tucked in behind it and followed it east down onto the prairie.
A huge structure/trash fire burned down to coals—ready for a giant's  barbecue
It was a windy morning. An outbuilding full of trash at a run-down, has-been ranch house had ignited (no doubt due to human agency) and the fire was spreading onto the prairie. A neighboring rural department (we were across the county line) and ours responded. We worked it for two hours, then relinquished the final clean-up to them after our water tender was completely emptied—and it holds about 1,600 gallons. I was home by 11:30 and finally got my breakfast and that cup of coffee.

Archaeologists of the future may puzzle over that thick ash layer, littered with nuts and bolts, mattress springs, truck parts, sheets of metal roofing and all the detritus left by the Barbed Wire Culture, which was in the process of being displaced by the Subaru Culture.

Knowing that wet weather was in the forecast, M. and I decided to hike over the ridge behind the house and retrieve one of my game cameras that had been out there for a week. More about that later. 

And remember last Tuesday's inconclusive fire call about a lightning strike on a foggy evening? It turned out that the fog and drizzle had not put it out, but it continued to smolder up on its ridge.
Pike-San Isabel National Forest fire information officer Gregg Goodland explains fire strategy. District ranger Paul Crespin, far right, rear, listens in approval .
Not to worry! The Forest Service had had a previously scheduled meeting last Thursday evening, two days after it was discovered, with volunteer firefighters and other interested locals about general fire issues. As to this little fire, now called the Sand Gulch Fire, the Pike Hotshots (an elite firefighting crew) were up there building line around it and conducting burnouts (backfires) to contain it.

What about the high winds forecast for Friday, someone (not me) asked?  Well, it was hoped that the fire lines would contain the fire, which had burned about twenty acres and was nicely "reducing fuels" and improving bighorn sheep habitat. "'Let it burn' is not in our vernacular anymore," the presenter said, but he that when fire could be allowed to burn without threatening "resources" or "values," it often was.

A couple of Forest Service engines were positioned in the area near the homes located at the foot of that ridge, he added.

M. and I went for our hike with smoke in the air. We were downwind, and as we crossed over the ridge coming home, the wind was ripping over the top and the quality of the light was changing. It felt like "eclipse light," like you get during a partial solar eclipse—bright, but reduced in intensity.

I came in and downloaded the game-camera photos. She took the dogs out but came back soon. "It's blowing up," she said.

Now the sky was orange, the sun was a red disk, and wind had changed to a roar.

The telephone was ringing—it was someone from the sheriff's office.

(More to come.)

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