June 19, 2002

HERE’S A FIRSTHAND REPORT from the Colorado fire scene, by reader Pete Farrell, forwarded via the Blackberry of reader Carl Frank:

Hello to all our friends and family on this mail-out,

The largest wildfire in Colorado history (possibly in US history as well) is approaching the western edge of our community. 2 miles to the west, the town of Monument is on voluntary evacuation status and the middle school at the bottom of our road is now a designated evacuation shelter. People in the town proper (particularly those with children or physical limitations) are being “encouraged” on local TV stations to voluntarily evacuate the area.

We are outside the stand-by evac box by about a mile and three quarters but have our cars packed to leave if sirens sound.

Outside our window, the plume dominates the sky. Local authorities say the fire “died down” since this afternoon and they “don’t expect” to have to put us on mandatory evac. Expectations, however, can change.

The “tri-lakes” area west of here is all under the “red flag” (meaning get out now if you prefer). The red flag zone runs from the county line three quarters of a mile from our house down to the fringe of the US Air Force Academy about ten miles from here. Yes, the mighty USAFA could conceivably get scorched.

The smoke layer engulfing Denver this morning was one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen. The smell permeated the entire metro area and the mountains were completely invisible — on a sunny morning. The layer settled in below 6,000 feet where it reduced visibility to about a half mile. For almost two weeks now we have witnessed gargantuan smoke plumes like something out of Independence Day.

Last week, it looked like the worst was over. Then it broke a fire line west of Colorado Springs Monday. Today, the fire added another 10,000 acres to its running total, which now stands at 113,000 acres. Not everyone around here believes it can jump the interstate. I think it can. Speculation varies as to what it might do in open country; some think it will lose intensity for lack of timber, but it will be countered by increased speed as it consumes wild grass and pasturelands.

The woman who started the fire has confessed after first lying about it. In something worthy of an Italian opera, it turns out she was enraged by a letter from her estranged husband and torched it in her back yard. To add sheer black humor to injury, it turns out she’s a Forest Service employee. Her job that day was enforcing fire restrictions. She was in federal court today facing charges. She probably won’t be released from jail for her own safety and for being a flight risk. (She’d probably be gunned down in the streets before she could get very far.)

Appeals on local radio are going out for all kinds of material assistance — ziplock bags, ladders, gloves, soda pop, food, clothing, cash and even washers and dryers. This comes from AM 740, a Pueblo radio station, yesterday afternoon. The assistance is not only for families, it is also for fire fighters, some 1500 of whom are on duty around the clock.

While reactions in our neighborhood vary, not everyone is just sitting around waiting. Many are getting ready, though it’s not like Independence Day yet. If the worst happens, this may be the last email from us for a while. But so far, we’re hopeful.

We’ll keep you apprised as events warrant. Oh, and your prayers would be appreciated, too.

Pete & family (upstairs packing)

Good luck, folks. Hope you get some rain. Diana Hsieh is providing steady updates on this, too.

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