Tag Archives: wildfire

Summer Heat

Of childhood vacations on my grandparents’ North Dakota farms, hot, dry winds blow through my memories of our summer visits. Days are long in that northern state; to escape the worst of the prairie heat, we’d run errands in town in the cooler mornings and spend afternoons in the farmhouse reading or playing games and drinking tall glass of iced tea. Most nights, we lay as still as possible in our stifling beds as the sound of the fan whirring in the living room held hope of catching any small breeze through the open window until the northern sun finally set hours past our bedtime.

Summer in Colorado is hot, too, although the worst heat doesn’t usually break until July and August, and hot days are broken by monsoon rains in the afternoons. But this year, May and June have been the hottest on record, with consecutive days breaking unheard of temperatures of 100 degrees, turning June into July with few clouds to shield us from the sun’s battering heat and bringing worries of drought to the state.

Every morning we check our irrigation ditch for water. We’ve received no official notice of an impending shut-down on our senior rights ditch, but rumors have us wondering how long we’ll be able to water the fields. The first thing John does in the morning and the last thing at night is set the pump, watering as much of the day as he can without wasting water to evaporation in the afternoon heat.

With little rain this spring, new grasses and plants in the foothills and mountains have not grown quickly enough to cover last year’s dry thatch, creating quick tinder for lightning strikes that spread through pine-beetle killed timber. Started by such a strike on mountain property owned by friends, the High Park fire has been burning for two weeks north of Ft Collins, destroying 8200 acres of beautiful forest land so far, with less than half of the fire contained. We can see the plume from our farm and smell the smoke, a daily reminder to use precaution in all we do.

Then this morning we woke up to thicker smoke hanging in the air and we knew the fire we’d heard about yesterday in Estes Park had worsened. This fire started in a housing subdivision near the southern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, close enough to threaten western parts of the town. 4300 people, including patrons at our favorite Estes restaurant, The Rock Inn, were evacuated last night; horses from nearby stables were relocated to the fairgrounds. Throughout the morning, the smoke seemed to shield us from the intense heat of the sun as the temperature neared 100. Thankfully, the fire was out by late afternoon, leaving 20 houses burned to the ground.

Now, as the sun begins to set, we can hear thunder and a few small raindrops have fallen. John and I went outside to soak in the cooler air as the wind picked up around us. Without a real rain to soak the earth, the storm may be a mixed blessing. The wind may whip the fire north of us; lightning may ignite a new blaze in the tindered land. Still, the cooldown means we’ll sleep better tonight and that will be welcome. With a week left in June of temperatures forecast in the high 90s, we have another long, hot week before us to meet with caution and care.

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Filed under ecobiography, sustainable agriculture

Four Mile Fire

A melancholy day with the haze of a wildfire hanging over the foothills. But for those with homes or loved ones in the burn area, a frightening day waiting for news . . . and for rain.

It started two days ago when high winds kicked up flames ignited by something—an RV or propane tank?–not yet confirmed.

The numbers mount: seven thousand acres burned, three thousand people evacuated, 54 homes lost, and eight people unaccounted for.

As I drove south into Boulder this morning where the smoke is thicker and the air smells like a mountain campfire from the burning pines, I thought of Emmy Lou Harris’s “From Boulder to Birmingham”:

And I don’t want to hear a sad story

Full of heartbreak and desire

The last time I felt like this

It was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire.

And I stood on the mountain

In the night and I watched it burn,

I watched it burn, I watched it burn.

The stories on the radio and from friends say the same thing:

I could see the flames as I drove away.

I watched it burn and hoped for the best.

And this:

I looked at everything in my house and realized nothing mattered except getting my family and animals out alive.

So I’m listening to the soundtrack of the Irish film Once, melancholy music for a day like today.

When your mind’s made up

When your mind’s made up

There’s no point trying to change it

When your mind’s made up.

These haunting songs seem meant for today, even if they’re more about love abandoned and betrayed than any other kind of loss.

Leave, leave,

And free yourself at the same time

Leave, leave,

I don’t understand, you’ve already gone

But in love and in life, we all face moments when the decision’s made for us because there is no other choice.

Times when you don’t even look behind because it doesn’t matter: You’re on your way and there’s no turning back.

And as you go, our thoughts are with you.

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Filed under memoir