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.
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.