Winds are part of mountain living and on June 3, 2013 gusts of up to 58 mph were recorded in Evergreen as a storm front approached Denver.
Blue Bell Circle is just off Brook Forest Drive in Evergreen and winds howled through the oasis of trees and meadows and knocked a 48-foot tree into power lines. The result was a wildfire fed by high winds and Evergreen Fire Rescue and Jefferson County Sheriffs decided residents within a 4-mile radius should evacuate.
Around 2:30 my cell phone, home phone and email all a Level 2 evacuation notice which means be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
I hadn’t smelled anything or seen any smoke but as soon as I turned on the news there were news trailers announcing the Blue Bell Fire just barely 2 miles away from the Bar B.
As a reporter for EN, I’ve done stories about wildfire and witnessed its fury as it jumps from tree to tree or scoots along the ground. Wind is fire’s lover and the more the better if you’re fire.
I’ve seen people stand confused just feet from a tall burning tree talking to neighbors about what they should do first. Animals or possessions? What comes first? Precious time is lost for those that don’t plan ahead.
Each time I wrote stories I always included the usual admonition: Have your evacuation list ready and posted in your home. Have your valuable documents all in one place and know what possessions you want and need to take. Have both a five-minute list and a 30-minute list.
I have both lists at my house and things are organized and ready to go. My animals, however, have a mind of their own.
In a short span of time I received four notifications regarding the fire – the first said be prepared, three said get out NOW.
I have four cats and most of the time they’re inside. That day they were out in the fenced back yard on mouse patrol. Nina was easiest to catch; Buzz’s currency is food; Petticoat generally will come when called and Skeeter is independent and would be a full-time outdoor mouser if she could. Three came in and one did not.
I loaded my car with what I felt was important including my more compliant cats, cameras, computers, clothing, personal items, financial documents, some scrap books, jewelry, cat food and litter boxes. I also grabbed blankets, medicines I need, my stuff for work and a few other things.
I closed all the windows to the house and shoved all the wood flooring left outside on the deck onto the ground below. I tossed the canvas folding chairs and small rug out into the yard. I connected the big hose to the spigot and backed the Jeep away from the house. I did all I could think of to no give fire a place to start. Of course, I have a huge woodshed near the house and there’s sticks and twigs in the backyard from last year’s mitigation. There’s never enough time to clean everything up.
I tried in vain to get Skeeter to come in the house. I had to leave her behind and hope she could fare OK until the evac order was lifted. Sometimes you can get out but you can’t get back in.
I wondered where I could go after I left the house. The evac center at Conifer High School? Maybe.
Close friends knew I was in the evac area and I got calls and texts from friends offering a place for me and the three cats.
I ended up going to my friend Peggy’s house until later that night when the evac order was lifted. When I arrived home, Skeeter was sitting on the back porch, looking expectant.
There’s been a furor lately over the emergency notification system and how gets calls and who doesn’t. The Lower North Fork Fire is still on people’s minds and many wondered why the notices went out even though the fire wasn’t as hot and didn’t move as fast. What most don’t realize is that embers from the fires are the real danger and they can travel for miles before landing on something flammable. The risk was too great and people on this block left in mass exodus shortly after the second call.
I learned a few things that day, the day the evac order came. My car with its mechanical quarks needed to be replaced, on windy days my cats stay inside and I’d better not be too attached to this house and its contents. That living in the mountains has its rewards and benefits: That I have great friends with generous hearts and welcoming homes should I ever be in this situation again.
I hope I don’t have to do this again any time soon.