Thursday, July 12, 2012

Waldo Canyon fire

Towards the end of June, we had a week of record-breaking temps over 100 and very low humidity. Our forests were already dangerously dry after a warm winter with below average snowfall. We had been warned about the fire season, but had no idea just how terrible things could get so close to home.
The Waldo Canyon fire started June 22 or 23 in the mountains just west of Colorado springs. We were in Denver for the weekend and could see the smoke as we drove home on Saturday. On Sunday, the column was noticeably more visible when I went to the library.
The fire continued to grow and on Tuesday afternoon, the 26th, we had winds gusting to 40-50 mph, 100 degree temps, and single digit humidity. The smoke column started to blow towards our house, way on the east side of Colorado Springs. At 4:00 in the afternoon, the sky turned dark and the sunlight glowed red. Even with all the windows closed, the smell of smoke was overpowering.
I was scheduled to work that night and the stench of smoke in the hospital was so strong, I fought headaches all night. The entire west side of town was being evacuated and the 24 hour news coverage had started. We knew the fire must have spread much farther east into Colorado Springs, but we had no idea how bad it was yet. Many of my co-workers had evacuated and worried their homes were in the path of the fire.  The hospital called a code grey in preparation for mass casualties and we weren't sure if we would be allowed to leave at the end of our shift. It was the scariest and most helpless feeling I can ever remember having.  
Just before sunset, all you could see was smoke.  After dark, we could see flames all along the foothills, some little pinpoints of light that were probably homes burning. We have these huge windows along the west side of our NICU and normally the view is breathtaking, but that night it was heartbreaking to look out and imagine the destruction that was taking place. That night almost 350 homes were burned, 2 people died, and in total, the fire burned about 18,000 acres.  
Here is the same view taken from a hospital window this week, after the fire just became 100% contained. The darker shading on the foothills to the right is not a shadow from the clouds, but the burn scar from the fire.  It will be a reminder for a long, long time to come of that horrible night.  In my life, I have experienced hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, hail storms, and flooding, but that was definitely the worst natural disaster I have lived through.  Our home was never in danger, but we knew many friends who were evacuated and one of my co-workers lost her home.  It was a sobering reminder to appreciate the truly important things in life, to support one another in our community, and thank all the firefighters, police, and others who risked their lives to protect our city.

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