Colorado Springs On Fire

A mountain wildfire started in a canyon nearby the westside of Colorado Springs Saturday.  I noticed the weird pink light in my house and snapped this picture from my office window, of the smoke plume rising above the city:

Note the ridge at the base of the smoke column.  That marks the canyon, the wild side. On this side, the city begins.

Forest fire.  Not shocking because it has been deadly dry this year and there have already been two big fires burning, north and south of us. Also, it seemed as if it would be contained to the mountains, where there are few people and fewer structures.

But I don’t remember a fire on the Front Range in my life time. Also, though it is very shallow, I was sad because I adore this hiking trail. It’s only a few minutes out of town, and a nice 7-mile loop that has plenty of good ups and downs.  I’ve hiked it dozens of times, including when I got lost with my friend Chrysauna and we had to hike another three or four miles into Crystola.

For four days, we’ve all been watching it like it was a movie on the horizon.  It’s hard not to stare at the horizon, gauging the progress, the direction–is it better? Worse? Will it gobble Manitou Springs? Woodland Park?

Yesterday, this morning, it seemed better.  I wondered if we were all just settling in, getting used to it.  I got up early–at 4 am–to write so that I would not be distracted by the latest news. I spent some time in the garden before I turned on the television or the Internet.  It doesn’t help the world if I am freaked out.

When I finally turned everything on, the fire seemed a little less extreme. The smoke wasn’t so bad. Some evacuations had been lifted. I had a couch being delivered for my basement and decided to go look for some lamps and pillows to add some color. When I got to the Shops at Briargate, this is what I saw:

By the time I came out of Pier One, 20 minutes later, the light playing inside the smoke clouds was extraordinary, so I fetched my camera and ambled around the city vantage points to shoot the fire.

No more than 30 minutes later, I shot this pic from Cottonwood Park, virtually the same view as above, just a bit south.

This one was shot from the UCCS campus, maybe 5 minutes south of the shot above, and only 10 minutes at most.

This one was also on the UCCS campus. Notice the woman in black has a substantial camera, but she’s not shooting photos. She’s biting her thumbnail.

The smoke cloud was doing amazing things at this point.  The vantage point was extraordinary, and I was feeling this little bubble of creative pleasure.  I shot a series of pictures:

Beautiful, right? All that light and the starkness of the telephone pole.  I might have laughed a loud a little.  Some people in the parking lot had brought snacks.

A change of perspective might be in order.  This is the full view of the telephone pole.  See that street? The teeny tiny cars?

I drove another three or four miles, directly west.  Everywhere, people were lining the streets, taking photos on their cell phones (while driving!!) and I can’t tell you how many fender benders I saw.  Dozens. The weary police were asking people to pay attention while they were driving.  Please.  I made myself focus on my own driving and the driving of people around me (thanks to my dad, the ex-state patrolman who taught us that it takes two to make an accident).  I still very nearly got rear-ended at one point, but that was a little later and you’ll see why.

My next stop was just shy of Centennial and Garden of the Gods, where I often have coffee with my friend Heather.  Across the street is Ruby Tuesdays, where I spent many many Fridays.  That was where I spotted this:

Until then, my photo trip had been just that, an artist date of sorts, a chance to shoot the very rare conditions the fire has created. When I spied the flames, my skin rippled.  It was like knowing you’ve cut yourself, then looking down to see blood spurting out from an artery.  I drove another two blocks to a better vantage point, in the parking lot of an office building, and shot this series:

(To show you I was not close…er…sort of.)  Remember, this fire had been burning for four days and had not posed a threat. This is a close-up:

Remember the ridge in the first photo? The line of defense the firefighters had held for so long?

There it goes.  And more:

Emergency vehicles of all kinds were racing down the main drag, so it seemed like time to get out of the way.  My loop included going home via Woodmen, so I headed up Centennial.  a couple of blocks up, i found myself in very heavy traffic.  Very heavy.  It was way too much to be only gawkers, but it wasnt until I spied a woman in a fully packed Subaru that I realized more neighborhoods were being evacuated.

Because would you want to hang around with this?

My trip home from there was nightmarish.  That cloud of smoke descended and engulfed us.  Ash and flakes fell on the car. By the time I made it home, I was shaky and newly educated. Fire moves fast.

The flames engulfed those neighborhoods. No one knows how many homes are lost. Or where the fire will go next or…anything.

We are quite safe here. Please don’t worry about that.

More anon.

19 thoughts on “Colorado Springs On Fire

  1. Wow, Barbara. Thanks for giving us a close-up view of the awesome and awful power of wildfires. We in AZ have a few going, but none so close to people & homes. This is devastating to a state I love!
    Stay safe and secure.
    Mary Tate

  2. Diane Russom Harrison

    My heart weeps for those forced from their homes, for the loss of wildlife, and, for the great loss of beautiful land. My prayers continue. XOXO

  3. Aunt Lisa

    Certainly no fire like this in my life in Colorado either. So sad. Glad you are all safe. Lovely photos, but what a loss to get them.

  4. As a former Coloradoan (Pueblo) I am heartbroken over this devastating destruction of some of the most beautiful country in the entire state. I pray that rain will come soon and extinguish this horror. Thank you Barbara for your photos and words.


  5. I saw some of this on the news downunder, Barbara , and was thinking of you. Glad to hear you’re safe. Really sorry to hear of any wildfires anywhere. It’s a very frightening experience, and with such tragic results for people and wildlife and the land. Heartfelt sympathy.

  6. Looked terrible on the news tonight Barbara. Hope you continue to stay safe.

  7. Marjanna

    I’ve been thinking about you out there in CS. I hope that you and your family are safe and able to breathe. I’ve been following the fire on some quilt blogs – one is going to mobilize sewists to make and send quilts to the families who are losing everything.

  8. Melina

    Glad you’re safe. We live in Pleasant Valley and have been out of our house for 2 days, coming back only to get a few more items and water the garden. We’ve been very lucky so far, unlike others who have lost everything. I do know one thing, it’s a real challenge to shelter 5 dogs, two of them skittish rescues. However, we have very good friends who have taken us in, dogs and all. Stay safe, Barbara.

  9. So glad you shared these pictures. I’ve traveled through CS and have considered moving there. So heartbreaking to see this. Fire = not to be messed with.

  10. stephanie

    Thanks for letting us know you’re safe. Lovely pictures but next time… not so close;)

  11. Right, not so close next time. 🙂

    And I recently read a discussion about the ice at the center of a writer’s heart that observes and notices everything, tucking away details….and horrific as all of this is, this afternoon, I heard the girls in the basement talking about what great material it all is. The ashes landing on the windshield. The people in charge of fighting the fire. The way we all stared at the sky for days and days as if a movie was playing….

  12. Melina, so sorry you had to evacuate. It’s starting to look a lot better for PV, so I hope you can go home soon. The dogs and cats are such a challenge under such circumstances, and I’m glad you had people to help you. Lucky Dog is Christopher Robin’s daycare/kennels, and they took in over 70 dogs and more than 30 cats. It was quite an undertaking, and many of those animals will not be going anywhere soon. Also, CR tried to load a very freaked out dog and ended up with a face bite….he’s okay, but that was in addition to staying up all night to keep a firewatch.

    We are all going to be processing this for a long time.

  13. Those are some great photos of the fire, and how fast it can move, but I am glad you are safe. The devastation wreaked by the fires is heartbreaking. I saw on tonight’s news that the FBI is now investigating the CS fire as possible arson.

    We are at near-drought conditions here in Southern Wis, and while there have been a lot of brush fires over the past couple months, they are nothing compared to what is playing out in Colorado and other western states. Here’s hoping states that need it get some relief soon!

  14. Glad to hear you are safe, Barbara–I’d been wondering. I have family in that area, and some have had to evacuate.


  15. Renee

    Am thinking of you Barbara.
    I hope they get control of the fire soon and if not, you have a place of refuge to evacuate to.
    I know what it’s like to be near a raging bushfire; it’s the price we pay for living somewhere beautiful.
    Be safe.
    Renee xxx

  16. I’m so glad you’re ok – and thank you for the photos. I have relatives in Colorado and have been to Colorado many times (I grew up in western Nebraska and often went to Denver, Fort Collins, etc.). It’s a beautiful state and these fires have just been devastating. My heart hurts for those who have lost those homes, and I also grieve for the animals caught up in it all.

  17. Debbie Kindoll

    What a great series of photos of this dreadful event. I live on the westside and never had to evacuation (pre-evac only) but your photos showed me images I had not seen.

  18. What a cost, right? I did have a gander at the burned part of the foothills on Sunday, and at a distance, it still looks beautiful.

    My gratitude is that Manitou, the Garden of the Gods, and Ute Valley Park were untouched. When I turned down Vindicator in the firestorm, I was pretty sure Ute Valley would never make it. It was so so so close….and yet. There it stands.

  19. Reading this post a little late but I’m still amazed. It brings the reality of wild fires home like no television coverage can. Hope all continues to be well with you. Powerful post!

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