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A Colorado Forest Fire and a Camping Trip Cut Short

Monday, July 11, 2016

In my last post from our dispersed camping site, I think I mentioned that on Saturday afternoon we saw smoke rising in the distance. At that time, we checked with 911 and were told we were safe and there was no need to evacuate. The fire on Saturday was fairly small, 220 or so acres, and it wasn't moving our way.

Well, that wasn't the end of the story. Indeed our Colorado adventure took an unexpected turn on Sunday, but let me back up a little bit first.

All afternoon Saturday, Diane followed news of the Cold Springs Fire, or Nederland Fire, on Twitter. Planes and helicopters flew overhead all day long and at some point, we saw this evacuation map.

Notice in the lower right of the map where it says "Aspen Meadows" and highway 68? We drove on highway 68 to our campsite, right past Aspen Meadows. Still, we weren't "in the zone," and there were literally hundreds of other people in our camping area, none of whom seemed worried, so we didn't worry either.

Around dusk, people starting lighting campfires, which seemed rather risky given the obvious fire danger the weather conditions presented (I was shocked to see campfires Friday, given the windy, dry weather), but each campsite had a fire pit with a grate for cooking, and presumably the fires wouldn't be left unattended. We had planned to have a supper of hot dogs over a fire, so Todd went ahead and made a small campfire for us in our fire ring, and then we turned on the radio and sat back to relax. Todd had no sooner gotten the fire going than we heard a news update on the Cold Springs Fire which included the information that all open burning, including camp fires, were currently banned in Boulder County. We decided to hurry up and cook our hot dogs and then let the fire go out. That was around 8:30ish.

Around 10:00, our fire mere embers, we heard a diesel truck chugging up the road through the camping area. We looked out to see front-facing red lights and (because we drive an ambulance and have been told we need to swap out the front-facing red light-covers so as not to appear to be an emergency vehicle) we knew it was some official truck. Turns out it was firefighters hauling water out to enforce the campfire ban. The firefighters were as nice as can be and since our fire was already going out, they continued down the hill towards the larger blazes we could see in the distance. After they left, Todd sped up in extinguishing our fire with water and we went to bed.

Sunday morning, the sky seemed clearer and we couldn't see any traces of smoke drifting on the horizon, so we didn't think much of the fire, but as the day went on, the number of planes and choppers flying overhead seemed to steadily increase. Once again, Diane kept an eye on things on Twitter, and by early afternoon, she learned the fire had grown to 330 acres.

Still, we could hardly even smell the fire where we were, and as far as forest fires go, that still counts as fairly small, so we didn't think twice about our plan to stay put until Monday morning. Todd's thought was to drive out in the early morning before the heat of the day for the sake of the Big Rolling Crate's transmission and brakes. 

All afternoon, we noticed that traffic into the camp area had slowed from earlier in the weekend, and we chalked it up to the fact that it was Sunday afternoon and people were getting ready for the work week. That was probably part of it, but the rest was that, unbeknownst to us, the evacuation zone was being expanded.

And then, at 4:30, someone from the sheriff's department rolled up on an ATV with mandatory evacuation orders. Diane went into full panic mode. Meanwhile, Todd was slow and methodical. Diane starting chucking things into the Big Rolling Crate, willy-nilly, while Todd carefully took down tarps and rolled up the parachute line that had held them. 

All afternoon, Diane had been hanging out with me in the Big Rolling Crate because the bugs were bad today--not enough wind to keep them off like we'd had on Saturday--but now she had no choice to face them and she wasn't one bit happy about. She kept jumping up and down and slapping at flies and then a wasp flew up her pant-leg and stung her twice on the thigh before she could kick the pants off and kill it. 

In one hour, the entire camp site was cleaned up and everything was packed except the bikes. Diane wanted to Todd to just throw them into the back of the Big Rolling Crate and get the heck out of there, but he wasn't having it. The problem is we don't have a real bike rack. Instead, Todd has to take off the front tires and some of the pedals of both bikes and then he ties them to the back of the Big Rolling Crate. Every time, they go on a little differently because it's a sort of made up system and sometimes it can take a very long time.

This time Todd decided to try to leave his front wheel on to save time, so he put Diane's bike on first and then tried to add his, but it was a total failure. In the end, it was just about 6:00 when he got it all settled to his liking. 

The only thing left to do was dump out the solar shower and some jugs of water we'd filled at the reservoir on our walk earlier that day. But Todd wasn't going to let all that hot, ready-to-use water go to waste. Oh no. He'd worked up a fine sweat packing. He wanted a shower. At that point Diane threw a hissy fit and threatened to call 911 and ask them to send someone to get her and me if Todd didn't get his butt in the truck and drive. 

The real issue was that two days in a row Todd hauled about 5 gallons of water 1.25 miles up hill from the reservoir to camp so we could have enough water to enjoy our stay until Monday. It was a lot of work to go to waste and damn it, even though we were headed to a hotel with a nice hot shower, he was going to use it.

So Todd rinsed off and put on clean clothes, apparently following that old grandmotherly advice to make sure you're always wearing clean underwear just in case there's an emergency, and then we set out. After Todd got the go-pro on top of the Big Rolling Crate, that is.

The rough and rugged dirt road actually proved no trouble for the Big Rolling Crate when we were in 4-wheel-drive and 1st gear, and Diane and Todd had done a good job securing everything in the back with me so nothing rained down from the cubbies this time. When we got to the end of the dirt road, there were dozens of police cars and someone was being arrested. It was quite a scene. 

The flagged us along and we never felt more stupid to be driving an emergency vehicle. We made good time out the smooth dirt road that led us up to a ridge and Magnolia Drive, the road we were most afraid of, even though it was paved. Locals will know why we were afraid. Magnolia drive is insanely steep and twisting. 

Todd kept the Big Rolling Crate in 1st gear, kept his foot completely off the gas pedal, and let gravity do its thing. Nonetheless, to ensure we didn't lose our brakes, he stopped every half mile or so. 

At this stop, Diane looked up and down the hill at the twists and turns and guessed it had to be at least a 7% grade. She was wrong. We no sooner left this spot than we saw this sign:

We saw trucks hauling horse trailers up and down this! We saw cars racing by like it was nothing. But we could only take it at about 12 MPH. It was like the worst roller coaster ride of your life. 

If you know Diane at all, you know how seldom she takes selfies, but she couldn't resist taking this one from one of our brake-cooling stops. Clearly she was no longer thinking straight, because she looks like a bus just hit her.

We stopped before a section of the road Diane and Todd called "the ladder," which they both remembered miserably from the drive up. It is a series of hairpins before you get back out onto the main road and they both terrified of it. Diane suggested Todd consider riding the emergency brake down, and after a moment's consideration he decided to try it. It definitely helped and we made it, finally, to the main road where there were more police since Magnolia Drive was part of the evacuation zone.

We had planned to stay at a hotel on Monday night, so Diane called to see if we could come a day early. Happily they had room so we went straight there and they were kind enough to waive the pet fee since we'd been evacuated. 

We ordered pepperoni pizza and sat in front of the TV watching the local news of the several forest fires burning all over Colorado. 

Todd promises our next campsite will be as boring as can be. Diane and I sincerely hope so.

Here's one last screenshot, which basically shows that status things when we were evacuated:

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