March 27, 2022

Reacting to Another Fire

Yesterday started out well. First thing in the morning, Sadie and I stopped by Red Rocks Park for a trail run. I’ve spent the first three months of the year either focused on fire recovery and not working out, or up in the mountains to ski, so this was actually my first trail run of the year. And it was a good one!

Look at these glorious views just a quarter mile in!

I had been checking out several options on AllTrails, but most reports indicated that mud was still a problem. My boyfriend had suggested that Red Rocks is usually so hard packed it doesn’t get muddy, and he was right! Sadie and I headed there and did the 1.4 mile Trading Post trail, which turned out to actually be a 1.55 mile loop. I hadn’t looked that closely at the map, planning to just make up my run as I went along, so I was thrilled that it was a loop rather than an out-and-back, though it was actually closer to 1.55 miles by the time you completed the loop. The 1.5 miles was no joke, though – it had 307 feet of elevation gain, which meant that when I did the loop four times in a row, I climbed more than 1200 feet! It honestly didn’t feel that bad, though – there were a few stair sections where I walked for a few seconds, but for the most part it was all runnable.

This uphill was obviously completely runnable, but I think if I were in better shape, the stair sections would have been quite runnable too. I have a lot of work to get ready for summer trail running season!

I headed home feeling really proud of myself for doing four loops, especially when it would have been very easy to quit after two or three. I spent the drive starting to get excited about trail running season, and thinking of all the places we’d go. Maybe on Sunday morning, I’d take Sadie hiking in the Boulder foothills…

…but my daydreaming was cut short Saturday afternoon, when I learned that the Boulder foothills were on fire. I heard the news early, before any mainstream media outlets were reporting on it, so I was continuously refreshing Reddit and Twitter to try to figure out what was going on. I learned that there was a brushfire at Bear Canyon / NCAR trailhead, an area I often hike, and firefighters weren’t having any luck containing it. The area was packed with hikers and trail runners enjoying one of the most beautiful days of the year so far.

Before long, a local news channel sent a helicopter to film overhead, and it was awful. Not only could you see flames and smoke everywhere, reminding me of the California wildfires that I naively thought would never happen here, but mixed into the burn area were big patches of snow. We aren’t even done with ski season yet – how was there a big fire?!

Here’s Sadie bounding through the snow on a hike from NCAR trailhead around this time last year.

And then I got the dreaded text from our Town Manager: the fire was 20 acres and growing, and police were evacuating the town of Eldorado Springs. There wasn’t yet a concern for Superior, but… all that was in between us and Eldorado Springs is the big Marshall Mesa Open Space. In December, that Open Space was what caught fire and brought the destruction to Superior. Not a lot of vegetation had grown back yet, but would the new growth be enough to allow the flames race toward Superior again? I didn’t know.

I spent the afternoon on edge, unable to do anything except keep refreshing various news sources. The fire grew from 20 acres to 60 acres to 120 acres, and 19,000 Boulder residents were evacuated. Our Congressman posted a reminder on what to do / pack if you need to evacuate, and I reviewed the list and shared it with my neighbors, but ultimately decided I was too superstitious to pack up just yet. Instead, I made a list of which things were important to me to grab (my safe of important documents, my marathon medals, and my $5000 of fertility meds to start taking next week – I was not losing those!), reasoning that my list would help me move quickly if the evacuation order came. I was trying to balance being prepared with not panicking, and I knew that the PTSD of the Marshall Fire was making me behave a little bit irrationally.

To further calm my nerves, I finally took the time to do the “home inventory” I’ve been meaning to do since the Marshall Fire – spending 20 minutes walking around my house and videotaping all the rooms and their contents. In the event of a catastrophe, I now have videos that will jog my own memory and also help support insurance claims. (I’ve seen what many of my neighbors have gone through trying to catalog all their possessions that burned in the fire and it is a nightmare.) While there are much more in depth ways to do a home inventory, to me, this felt like another good balance between prepared and paranoid.

But looking at our neighborhood Facebook groups, I wasn’t the only one worried – not by a long shot. There were a lot of comments from people saying they started crying as soon as they smelled the smoke, their bodies’ instinctual reaction to what at first seemed like a repeat of the Marshall Fire. Some people were so panicked that they immediately packed up their cars and left town, and I couldn’t say I blamed them for that decision. Although the fire was still 6 miles away, we knew firsthand how fast a fire could spread, plus how backed up traffic could get when everyone needed to evacuate at once. I thought about packing up and going to a friend’s house, but right now I’m supposed to be on COVID lockdown in preparation for my egg retrieval, so socializing wasn’t a good idea (even though being alone through all this was pretty scary). It made me feel a little bit better to see the comments of neighbors who were equally alarmed, reassuring me that I wasn’t the only one with an outsized reaction. By 6pm, Boulder Office of Emergency Management started broadcasting that any residents feeling symptoms of post-traumatic stress were encouraged to call the Colorado State Mental Health Crisis Line (1-844-493-8255).

When I went to bed, the fire was still at 0% containment, but didn’t seem to be coming any closer to Superior. I trusted that the Marshall Fire burn area might grant us the small blessing of protecting Superior from this fire. I decided to head to bed, though I kept my phone with me on my nightstand (where I normally don’t bring it in my bedroom) so that I would get alerted to any evacuation orders if things changed. I slept surprisingly soundly, and woke up this morning so thankful that I had woken up naturally rather than in response to an evacuation call. By morning, the fire had grown to 200 acres, but no structures burned and no lives have been lost; the perimeter is now 21% contained, and it seems like things are improving. I’m so grateful that this turned out to be a false alarm, but… is this what it’s going to be like in Superior from now on?

Our Town Board has had so many priorities since the fire. As a community leader, the NCAR Fire made me feel really guilty that I haven’t been following up on the improvements that were supposed to come to our emergency alert system. And although our Board heard a presentation on how to better plan the wildland urban interface, we still haven’t really taken action on implementing changes. Both of these are critical to mitigating future fires, and the NCAR Fire was a stark reminder that we have so much more work to do. Instead, we’ve been focused on so many other things that are arguably also pressing – getting potable water for the town, changing building codes for those needing to rebuild, and generally ensuring that people have their basic daily living needs met. While it sounds ridiculous that we haven’t yet focused on preventing future fires, there just hasn’t been time to do everything – and I, of all people, have learned that you have to recognize when you’re beyond your capacity limits. (But just because I can recognize my limits, I still don’t feel good about reaching them 😕)

Anyway, when I woke up this morning, I immediately picked up my phone from my nightstand (ah, see, this is why I don’t normally keep my phone in my bedroom). After being reassured that the fire was indeed improving, I started browsing through my Feedly, something I haven’t done in a long time. I happened across a NYT article on how “You Can Learn to Love Being Alone”, and it felt perfect for that particular moment, alone in bed with Sadie and with at least two weeks of solitude looming ahead.

One of the toughest parts of Saturday was feeling totally alone while I was panicking; I also knew that I couldn’t go to a friend’s house for company. Even if the NCAR Fire gets extinguished and no more fires start (please!), I’m feeling pretty down knowing that I can’t see anyone in person for a while. Although I dealt with isolation really well in 2020, I’m really dreading it this time around, even though it’s for a finite period. I hope that, like this article encourages, I can find ways to feel connected and productive while I’m holed up at home.

And, of course, I hope that my home remains a safe place for me to live 🙏


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