Showing posts with label Mason Gulch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mason Gulch. Show all posts

January 04, 2019

Graves in the Woods (2)

Two little graves in the San Isabel National Forest
Unlike the graves mentioned in "Graves in the Woods (1)," these are not human graves, I think — unless they were infant twins — which would be extremely weird.

More likely they were for two pet animals, small dogs or cats. We found them near a Forest Service road when we first moved here in 1992, and they looked pretty much the same back then. The Mason Gulch Fire of 2005 missed them by a few yards.

I wonder if whoever  buried them there ever comes back for a visit.

February 02, 2015

Back in the Burn, Ten Years Later

Part of the Mason Gulch burn, ten years after.
M. and I were both feeling housebound yesterday, so we went for a walk up on the Mason Gulch Burn ( from the July 2005 fire — related blog posts here).

I wanted to see if there was a noticeable game trail in a certain area, and I found it, but it was faint and intermittent. Still, it gave me a new clue as to how elk in particular might move through that country — worth remembering and revisiting.

The woods were quiet. No one down on the road. Some sports thing going on, apparently.

November 01, 2012

'It's Like the Devil Went Bowling'

M. and I were eating breakfast at the sunny end of the veranda on Thursday, and we started compiling some statistics.

• Evacuations since 2005: Three (Mason Gulch, Sand Gulch, Wetmore).

And the amount of time available dropped for each one, from six hours to thirty minutes to "Go now!"

• Pre-evacuation notices that never required leaving home: Two, one in  2011 (the Biplane Fire, a/k/a the Mason Fire) and one in 2012 (the Ditch Creek Fire). We should have received a reverse-911 evacuation notice last week, but the telephone lines had already burned by then.

• Number of smokejumper drops that you could have seen from the house in the last two years: Two, one of them just across the road.

• Named fires within one mile in the last two years that made the national incident list: Three.

• Other minor wildland fires in this area in the last two years: Five? (I would need to check the incident reports at the fire house to be sure.)

• Number of Forest Service plans presented for prescribed fires, thinning, etc. in this area since 1987, the first year that I started following the issue: Several. Six?

• Number of prescribed burns actually carried out: One, in April 2000. Some mechanical thinning was also done in the area burned over during the Mason Gulch Fire. The Forest Service claims that it helped slow the fire. But no burning or thinning has been done in the actual "interface" area, close to homes.

• Number of naturally occurring fires that were categorized as "prescribed use" and allowed to burn, only to explode after the Forest Service assured residents that everything was under control: One (Sand Gulch), in 2011.

Sticking It Out

 But as much as I might call ours the "Burned-Over District" (a little scholarly joke there), I think that title really goes to the area west of Boulder, Colorado: Gold Hill, Black Tiger Gulch, Sugar Loaf, Four Mile Canyon, Sunshine Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Lefthand Canyon — All place names, all fire names.

This documentary, Above the Ashes, focuses on local residents who fought the Fourmile Fire (September 2010) on Boulder's western edge at their own homes and their neighbors', because there were simply not enough trained firefighters to cover the area. It's a good depiction of how people react — and act. (Hat tip: Wildfire Today.)

Best line: "You send four gay men into a burning house, they grab the art."

July 13, 2009

Another Walk in Mason Gulch

Four years after the Mason Gulch Fire, M. and I took our annual anniversary hike through the corner of the burn nearest our home.
Burned cottonwood in Mason Gulch. Photo (c) Chas S. Clifton
She calls this "the palomino tree." It was one of the cottonwoods burned along the gulch.

The wet early summer has been good for the grass, as both photos show. Some of this grass may have arrived under this contract. Unfortunately, cheatgrass is spreading too. There ought to be national honors awaiting the scientist(s) who can find the herbicide, insect, or fungus that works only on cheatgrass.

We did not have a great wildflower show this year--the rains came a bit late for that--but this Asclepius tuberosa (butterfly weed) looks happy. Lots of it around this year.

December 25, 2008

Christmas Walk in the Mason Gulch Burn

Looking SE into the Mason Gulch Burn (July 2005).M. and I went for a walk in the Mason Gulch Burn today. It was a sort of "edge day" for weather -- a storm to the west, clear skies to the east, and us right on the boundary. Part of the time it was sunny, while at other times fingers of snow squalls reached for us, and the skies clouded over, as in this photo.
Mule deer in Babcock HoleThese mule deer does were feeding back in the shadows ... ... and so were some little dinosaurs, a/k/a wild turkeys. Me, I wonder if Santa might have a better telephoto lens left over in his bag.

June 02, 2007

Forest Fire Show & Tell

The Forest Service apparently has been doing media tours of fire sites, judging from Front Range media. Channel 13 in Colorado Springs featured foresters talking about growing local seedlings for reforestation on the Hayman Burn southwest of Denver -- good forestry practice, but it's not like they are going to re-plant 138,000 acres -- nor should they.

The Rocky Mountain News trumpets that the burn will take 600 years to "recover." And how many times will it burn between now and then? And what is "recovery"?

The big issue up there is the erosive decomposed granite soil in much of the burned area.

Despite the return of grasses, shrubs and other groundcover over more than half the land, the erosion problem continues. For Denver Water, the shedding soil has created a new budgetary black hole.

Dirt traps designed to stop the soil from pouring through Goose and Turkey creeks into Cheesman Reservoir, at the heart of the burn area, are catching more -- not less -- sediment, said Kevin Keefe, who supervises reservoir operations for the utility.

Today M. spotted two school buses and some FS vehicles on the road leaving the 2005 Mason Gulch burn -- another tour?

UPDATE: The Denver Post does its story on the restoration. (Newspaper links may expire.)

October 03, 2005

Thinking about disaster

The Mason Gulch Fire is still with us. Colorado Central, a magazine that I sometimes write for, has asked me for a 2,000 word essay on preparedness, evacuation, looters, and all of it. After hurricanes Rita and Katrina, a lot of writers are talking about "go bags, " cash stashes, food storage, firearms, and not letting the gasoline tank go below half full.

Survival literature has a long history in America. Just 45 years ago, during the height of the Cold War, George Leonard Herter, founder of Herter's Inc., (now part of Cabela's) had a few things to say in his eccentric cookbook Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices.

One appendix is titled “In Case of a Hydrogen Bomb Attack You Must Know the Ways of the Wilderness to Survive.”

Get out of town, he says, regardless of what the “would-be authorities” say. “Have a wood stove that can be set up in abandoned house or shelter.”

He continues with more suggestions: dried food, matches in waterproof containers, and .22 rifle with at least 1,000 rounds of ammunition for both small-game hunting and self-defense. “Bombings bring looting and the looting is done in most all cases by so-called friends who live near you. This is what happened in both World War I and II.” (Herter came from a Belgian family.)

Finally, after discussing medicines, Herter concludes, “Have 5 one-pound cans of tobacco. This is your fortune. If there is any food or material available that you need, the tobacco will get it for you when money will not.”

There is a peculiar thrill to imagining cataclysmic disaster of such a scale that money would be worthless and you would be picking off looters from the entrance to your cave.

Here in southern Colorado, though, I will stick to planning for forest fires and blizzards.

July 14, 2005

After the Fire Stopped

Another hot day was coming, so I got up early, fed the dogs, and walked up the Forest Service road to look at the burn. The good news was that Babcock Hole was not the blackened cauldron that yesterday's Chieftain cover photo (see July 13 entry) led me to expect.

LEFT: Babcock Hole four days after the Mason Gulch Fire. This area is mostly just out of the frame to the right in the aerial photo below.

The bad, or at least spooky news, was that at some point (early Friday morning?) the fire had crossed our road. Had the wind blown from the SE, the fire could have circled around into the houses. But it had stopped, whether on its own or due to slurry drops, I do not know. And then a hand crew had scraped a fire line along the edge of the burn.

Robert Hamilton, who owns the small ranch at the end of the road tells his experience. (He never evacuated.) Fire-fighting has cost $3.8 million so far.

And I was right about the the T-shirts: "A silk-screening outfit from Silver City, N.M., was doing brisk trade with T-shirts and caps commemorating the Mason Gulch Fire."

Fluorescent pink, yellow, and green plastic flagging is all over the place. One strip on a neighbor's driveway was marked as follows, apparently as instructions to firefighters defending the house: "VACANT. Broken slider window. Sited 7-9-05? Propane needs shut off. Scrape away duff from deck & structure. Remove wood pile against house front."

I came home after an hour. M. was just getting out of bed. "I have news for you," I said. "A hermit thrush is singing in Babcock Hole."

July 13, 2005

Definitely Winding Down

Coming home after a day in Pueblo I was thinking about something other than the Mason (Gulch) Fire when a Sky Crane helicopter tanker (the one with the proboscis) suddenly lumbered into the air beside the road (from the little heliport set up at Colorado 96 and Siloam Road, if you know the area).

Other helicopters with buckets were still taking off from the Wetmore helibase in Virgil Lawson's pasture, and the post office door was still plastered with fire maps and notices, but the excitement is over.

For the first time, I was not stopped by a sheriff's deputy when I turned onto our road. M., home all day, says some definite "tourists" have been up the road to view the burn. Lengths of yellow and hot pink flagging tape are hanging here and there, but the big Fol-Da-Tank portable water reservoir not longer sits beside Hardscrabble Creek, and someone has removed all the fire hoses.

I think that I am about finished fire-blogging, although I will post some more photos. I will, as the occasion presents itself, write about the changes in the land after the fire.

July 10, 2005

Pinpricks for a giant

This photo shows the Mason Gulch Fire growing before the west wind. A helicopter base has been set up in a field just to the left of the photo. Helicopters with water buckets filled at a nearby rancher's pond or from portable reservoirs take off, fly to the edge of the fire, and drop a few hundred gallons in a swath.

The copters are just dots against the smoke plume. "Like ant bites on a giant," M. remarked as she watched.

We are in Westcliffe, but this cafe is about to close, so we might stop by the sheriff's office and see if there is any news. Despite all the public information officers, reverse-911 messages (that do not always come through), and so on, there information flow is not that great. I missed another meeting at the Baptist church on Saturday night--I had no idea that it was happening, since I did not drive the 10 miles down the canyon to look at the notice board.

UPDATE: The dispatcher knew nothing. All these highly paid Forest Service public information officers sitting around drinking coffee, and no one calls the sheriff's dispatcher?

UPDATE: The Colorado Springs Gazette headlines "Blaze doubles in size"

July 09, 2005

SRO at the Baptist Church

The little store out on the state highway was probably having its greatest day ever on Fiday, its parking lot full of fire vehicles and loitering crews. Driving past, I saw engines from Fowler and Manzanola (both little prairie towns) among others, and a serious-looking 6x6 rig from the Platte Valley department, from the mountains southwest of Denver. They should know forest fires: the country is similar to ours and it has had some big burns in recent years, including the giant Hayman Fire in 2002.

A new helicopter air tanker had joined the air show, slipping through the smoke like some kind of giant insect with a dangling proboscis.

Every pullout on the highway was filled with emergency vehicles, television trucks, or gawkers, but as M. and I drove past on our way down to town, we could see through the smokey air across to our road, and it was still surrounded by green trees. Fire engines were parked here and there in driveways.

The fire itself grew during the day to something more than 1,500 acres. All the aerial slurry-dropping had not stopped its movement when the winds blew. The steep ridge where it started was hazardous terrain for ground crews, who were just trickling in: an imate crew from the nearby state prison plus elite Hot Shot crews from elsewhere. By Friday evening, the "army" had grown to 350 firefighters, counting managers ("overhead"), public-information officers, engine crews, ground crews, and others.

I had given the sheriff's office the number of the friend's house where we were camped, our trailer set up on a dead-end road next to a cow pasture. That afternoon my friend Hal walked up to the trailer and said he had gotten a recorded telephone message about an "informational meeting" to be held at 7 p.m. at the small Baptist church 2.5 miles from our house. I drove down there, about ten miles from our temporary camp, shooting these pictures on the way.

This is the new Forest Service at work, putting on a good show for local residents and the news media (I actually heard the phrase "your tax dollars at work"). It's a long way from my father's day, when he was a district ranger managing a fire with a rotary-dial telephone and a radio, trying to coordinate everything and take calls from the Rapid City Journal too.

The district ranger and the sheriff orchestrated the show, speaking before the packed pews and TV cameras in front of a blown-up topographic map. It was standing room only--I will bet that church is not so full on Easter Sunday. More evacuees from the east side of the fire, in the next county, were there, along with my neighbors. A lot of bureaucratic syrup was poured, but the essence of the presentation was this: The fire is not under control, and you all can't go home yet.

The management level had outgrown the trailer parked near the church and was moving to the high school in town, 15 miles away. We now had a "Type 2" fire with a name, the Mason [Gulch] Fire, and if kept growing, I suspected that soon the T-shirt vendors would be arriving. Wildland firefighters often go home with commemorative T-shirts produced on the spot.