We were lucky. In Colorado Springs the fire climbed a canyon wall and at the top, they had 65 MPH winds. Nothing can stop that. Nothing. It was devastating for the houses directly in the path of that fire.
Up in Boulder we also had a fire climb the back side of the foothills on the edge of Boulder. And directly in its path on the other side was our home. Normally being on the edge of the greenbelt with a direct view of the foothills is wonderful. But in this case being in the first line of houses it would hit, not good.
An alert went out telling us to pre-evacuate. My wife and I drove home to pack the essentials. On the way there the foothills were wreathed in smoke and we could see flames from the fire creeping over the top. This was the view from my home – and the mountains obscured by the smoke are less than 3 miles away.
When I first got there we were worried about how much time we had. Seeing those flames, breathing the smoke and seeing that the wind was pointing the fire directly at us really gets you focused. It makes you realize what is truly valuable. We got all the family photos into the cars (we have a lot of pictures). That came before everything else. Next was legal documents and the Buffalo backup drive (always, always have a portable backup drive!). Then we got several days worth of clothes, food for the dogs, and our air mattresses and comforters (our plan was that hotels would probably all be booked so we would camp out at Windward). And then calls from our daughters reminding us to pack their stuffed animals (they may be grown but they still have those at our house).
That evening was very strange. Watching the news to see if the fire was going to destroy our home. Everything that night depended on the wind and so we were constantly going outside to see if it was staying mild. And then going to sleep that night wondering if we would get the phone call and police sirens if we had to evacuate. It’s a very weird feeling to not know if you will still have a home tomorrow.
The next day the wind was mild but it usually picks up in the afternoon. The City announced that they were holding the fire at the ridgeline. So we took the dogs to doggie day-care in a safe part of the city and went to work. I didn’t want to drive off not knowing if my home would be there when I was next back. I tried to lose myself in work but I can see the ridgeline from my office window and so I kept checking all day long. And at times the fire would come over the top to then be put out by the helicopters.
Our home was still there that evening and it looked better. We could see the foothills. There was still plenty of smoke and you could see flames at times. But things looked better.
The next morning we were still on pre-evacuation notice the next morning but for the first time the officials sounded hopeful. By that morning they had enough resources in place to stop the fire if it came down our side of the foothills (and the wind was not too fast). I drove by the staging area at Fairview High School and they had 17 fire trucks there to respond.
During that day they built firebreaks and continued to put out any flames that crept over the top. By that afternoon they called off the pre-evacuation and we knew we would keep our home.
Once we knew it was safe my wife and I talked about how we realized how emotionally stressful this was. Neither of us was concerned about the building, but there were so many things we didn’t pack, so many things we probably missed in our rush to pack. And things it didn’t make sense to pack but we would have missed. I have over 200 Computer Games, in the original boxes. Most of them are 15 – 20 years old from back in the days of MS-DOS games. (Although my wife has wanted me to get rid of those games for years so I don’t think she was as worried about them.)
We were very very lucky. 60MPH winds are regular occurrences in Boulder. If that had happened either of the first 2 nights as it did in Colorado Springs we would have faced the same fate. And the third day it still would have been touch and go with high winds. We were spared because the winds were low and the fire crews did an amazing job. The fire kept pushing over the ridgeline and the crews kept putting it out where it did.
My heart goes out to the families in Colorado Springs who were not as lucky as us.