Colorado in Crisis: Wildfires in "Catastrophic Fury" Devastate City

This morning much of northwest Colorado Springs is charred –
preliminary estimates say more than 300 homes destroyed;

1000+ firefighters from across the Nation on-scene
18,500 acres burned, confirmed – fire triples in size overnight. 5% containment.

Fires overtake Queens Canyon at 4:30 p.m. yesterday, raced into Mountain Shadows to devastate community

More mandatory evacs for: Mountain Shadows, Peregrine, Woodland Park, Crystola, north of Garden of the Gods, Pleasant Valley and Holland Park

Pre-evacuation notices (meaning be ready to evac) issued to the Larkspur, west half of Monument, Rockrimmon, Woodmen Valley, Piñon Valley, Pine Cliff, Palmer Lake.

related: map of current COLORADO fires

June 27, 2012
Holly Deyo

Last night was a night like no other and today much of northwest Colorado Springs wakes up to charred remains. On local news, Stan and I saw a vision of hell descend on the city. No still image, no weak words can convey the destruction that tore at our eyes. "Historic", unprecedented", "never before seen", "catastrophic fury" rolled off stunned news broadcasters lips. House after house exploded into flames. Rooftops wore pointy "fire hats" twisting this way and that in the wind and then tremendous booms sounded as roofs collapsed.

Torrents of flame marched down mountainsides devouring everything in their path. Against the backdrop of dark evergreens, hellish orange-red backdrops of solid fire stretched into the night sky. Apocalyptic plumes of smoke – some rising as high as 30,000 feet – choked the skies darkening visibility to 0 in some areas.

Incident Commander Rich Harvey (pictured above) explained one of the more alarming facets and concerns for secondary fires. Embers from existing fires can blow as far away as 1/2 mile. 65% of those embers will start new fires. So for every 100 embers that blow off a wildfire, 65 new blazes ignite. This disaster is exacerbated by the gusty winds we've been experiencing all up and down the Front Range.

With regard to wind Harvey stated, "I have never seen a progressive fire like this and I've been doing this a long time." He indicated that the fire might burn easterly for 3 hours, then wind turned it northwest, burn for another 4 hours, then turn south and burn for 3 more hours. There was no rhyme or reason to this fire. As of this evening conditions are still too dangerous for officials to fully assess the damage, but preliminary reports say at least 300 homes burned.

In 1988 the massive Yellowstone Park fire took out nearly 800,000 acres with 9,000 firefighters on board. It was heartbreaking to see those beautiful forests destroyed, wildlife fleeing in terror. Fires of that magnitude are something we've never witnessed before or since, but these Colorado infernos, while smaller, are personal. Friends live there, it's home to our favorites restaurants, a place where we like to shop and relax. It is also where Stan attended the Air Force Academy. Colorado Springs is a beautiful city set against the majestic Rockies and it is heartrending to see so much go up in flames.

In July 2005, massive fires ignited in Beulah, CO – the place where we thought we were destined to live. We have personal friends there and when it was reported that fires were consuming the area, we immediately drove up the canyon to help in evacuations. I can't ever remember feeling more terrified looking at walls of fire marching up the mountain, feeling smoke choke your lungs as we threw everything into available vehicles. But you couldn't think about that. You just had to keep moving, keep getting things done, get everyone safe.

These friends lived in a modest home, but the amount of stuff to be relocated was staggering: Cadillacs, trucks, cows, paintings, vintage doll collections, pets, clothing, pictures, memories, vitals. We spent the afternoon moving all of the above into the valley. Any day, any day at all I'd rather deal with a tornado, earthquake, blizzard or power outage... anything but wildfire. It is a monster that controls all. You are at its mercy – and God's. When fires reach such massive proportions as the High Park Fire and the Waldo Canyon Fire, there are simply no defenses – especially with unpredictable weather factored in. When firefighters say 'you got to let her burn', you know you're screwed. May God bless our firefighters are they are our best defense against these (un)natural disasters. Out hearts are in sorrow for fellow Coloradans going through these terrible dramas.

These fires defy description. Areas are burning where Stan and I visited just a few weeks go. The Air Force Academy has been evacuated. The historic Flying W Ranch has burned to the ground. Many homes in Mountain Shadows subdivision are destroyed. News anchor, Lisa Lyden of KOAA while on air, saw her neighborhood ablaze. Tears choked her voice as she didn't know if her own home had burned. National treasures like Garden of the Gods are also at risk.

This is an aerial view of the 300+ homes that burned in Mountain Shadows. An 8 MB file is big, but such a large size is necessary to see how the fire burned rows of homes, jumped over some and burned more.

The last time we felt such gut-wrenching pain was Sept. 11, 2001. You feel such camaraderie for your friends and neighbors, helpless in your ability to give enough and pray you're strong enough to endure the onslaught. For friends that undergo this tragedy, you can't cry enough tears. All you can do is hold them – and pray. The Waldo Canyon Fire is 3 times the size of the Beulah fire.

"Firestorm of epic proportion" is used to describe the catastrophic destruction of people's homes, taking everything they have, their businesses, and especially their peace of mind. As of 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, 36,000 people had been evacuated – just in the Springs – wondering if they will have a home to go to. This doesn't even consider the huge High Park Fire still burning close to Ft. Collins, CO in the northern part of the state.

As of Wednesday at 2 p.m., about 1,000 firefighters at this one Colorado Springs blaze are doing everything they can to save homes, preserve people's memories, their livelihoods – even when three firefighters saw their own homes go up in flames. Firefighters on-site were heard on scanners to state, "Too strong, too fast to fight, gonna have to let it pass through" and they had to let houses burn.

Thankfully no one has died or been injured.

This morning 3/4 of NW area of Colorado Springs (population ~400,000) is a ghost town. Traffic streamed both in and out of the evac area to gather emergency packs, pets, vitals and then to flee. All hotel rooms are booked as far away north as Denver and as far south as Pueblo. The closest available rooms are in the ski resort of Winter Park. Shelters are set up at Cheyenne Mountain High School, Lewis-Palmer High School, the southeast YMCA and Summit Middle School in Divide.

In our community of Pueblo West about 50 minutes south of the Waldo Fire, Stage 2 fire bans are in place. This means no outdoor smoking or welding, no sale or use of fireworks, no recreational burning, use of charcoal grill or campfires is allowed. It's hard to remember how many days of back-to-back red flag warnings have been issued.

There are simply no words, no words at all to describe the magnitude of the misery Coloradans are feeling today. Please pray for these people. Pray for America. Pray for mercy as gusty winds, very dry air, record high temperatures and dry thunderstorms are forecast again for the area today.