Sunday, April 26, 2015

Black Forest fire transformed very quickly into catastrophe

First responder explained what she encountered early in Black Forest Fire

By Rob Carrigan,

(This story was written early 2015 as fire officials and recovery workers finally had enough time to tell part of their stories regarding what they encountered in the aftermath of the fire.)

Palmer Lake Fire Chief (and Falcon Fire Department Fire Marshal) Margo Humes says she was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the Black Forest Fire, and the fast-moving fire, on a very hot and dry day, careened out control before fire personnel could stop it.
"The fire was still on the ground when we first arrived and everything available was sent in right away, but it was very fast moving."
She described how she entered a house where the garage was already in trouble and in the process of rescuing pets, and large animals, as she contacted owners by a number recovered from a note on the table inside.
"It was definitely human caused,"says Humes. "No lightning, no traffic, no one around."
Answering a questions about crowning, Humes described how the fire climbed ladder fuel into canopy and transformed into the fire storm of catastrophic proportions it became.

Photo info:

1. Palmer Lake Fire Chief (and Falcon Fire Department Fire Marshal) Margo Humes says she was one of the first to arrive, and explains what she encountered at the start of the Black Forest Fire.
2. A question about crowning was asked of Palmer Lake Fire Chief (and Falcon Fire Department Fire Marshal) Margo Humes on recent tour.
3. Fire marks the eastern edge of this road in Black Forest but left the western side undamaged as it ripped through the forest after starting near here.

Rebuilding after the fire changes a person

'Yes, there are views. But the trees were special.'

By Rob Carrigan,

Something like this changes you.
"Your whole life is gone. Even after you rebuild, the place is sterile, no photos left, no old clothes, no familiar jacket, or hat. Landmarks are gone. Just a lot of ash."
Bill Mantia, board vice president for Black Forest Together, Inc. knows this, perhaps as well as anyone.
"Once you go through something like the Black Forest Fire, and the rebuilding process. You are not normal," he says with authority.
Just about every tree, his two houses, fences, barns, clothes, all belongings — everything 40 acres can hold, disappeared that day in June, nearly two years ago.
Since then, it has been neighbor helping neighbor. Red Cross and insurance, tracking down mail, and dealing with the planning department, jumping through hoops with the phone company, and chipping trees, and preventing flooding.
There is stress, anxiety, depression. But in Mantia's mind, there is no use playing the blame game.
"Everybody did the best they could, under the conditions."
And rebuilding jumps forth, in fits and starts.
He and his wife deadpan jokes about their new wardrobe every now and then.
"Is that new?" he asks, knowing full well that don't have anything to wear that isn't. Everything turned to ash.
On the insurance front, even the well-insured probably have to come up with another 20 percent or so. The battle continues. Neighbor still help neighbors. The work and the rebuilding process goes on. Stumps, and blackened trees, unchecked stream flow, erosion, and sprouting vegetation.
Help still arrives, and friends are still a comfort.
Once a grove of trees, opens now, as a meadow with a view.
"Yes, there are views. But the trees were special," Mantia says wistfully.

Photo info:

1. Black Forest Together board vice president Bill Mantia points out the direction the fire traveled over his own property during an explanatory caravan tour, discussing lessons learned from the Black Forest fire.

2.  Bill Mantia lost his own home in the fire and still is working hard every day to recover from the effects.

3. After the fire, came problems with flooding and this homeowner tries to slow down the devastating effects of unchecked runoff water.

Fire season now a reality throughout the year

With 60 square miles of combustible terrain under his organization's watch, and more and more people living in the wildland/urban interface, the question to the answer of wildfire, is not if, but when? Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Marshal John Vincent knows that. The key is, he says, to become a fire-adapted community. And we do that by planning.
"We live on a fire planet," explained Vincent at a recent Firewise presentation on how to protect homes from wildfire and save firefighters lives at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church, in the Kings Deer area.
"What we need to do is to prepare so we can have fire, but without it becoming catastrophic, as the Black Forest Fire became in less than 30 minutes."
Failure to do so is not an option.
"By not mitigating, you are putting my life in danger," he said. He advocates communities such as our own, becoming Firewise. And creating your own personal evacuation plan with the help of information and tools like "Ready, Set, Go" with the aim of saving lives and property through advanced planning.
"Firewise Communities is a national program that helps communities take action to reduce their risk before a wildfire starts. As fire departments are challenged to do more to respond to such issues as global terrorism, hazardous materials threats, and wildland fires, residents and volunteers can help them reach their safety goals while allowing the first responders to train for and respond to emergencies," says material form National Fire Protection Association's Firewise Communities.
Here on the Front Range, we are particularly susceptible.  
"Fire is, and always has been, a natural part of the beautiful area where we have chosen to live," notes Ready, Set, Go! "Wildfires, fueled by build-up of dry vegetation and driven by hot, dry winds, are extremely dangerous and almost impossible to control.  Many residents have built their homes and landscaped without fully understanding the impact a fire could have on them."
"We have 90 miles of fuel here. We need to get ahead of the curve, after 120 years of fuel preservation," Vincent said, and mitigation extremely important. "None of us have seen natural forests."
"Become part of the solution by developing strategies and becoming Firewise Communities," he said.
Citizen participation is increasingly important in making our nation and communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to emergencies of all kinds, says info from Firewise Communitites.
"Residents and volunteers in communities at risk from wildfire have a unique opportunity to create Fire Wise Communities."
Vincent says he, and other organizations such as Firewise Communities, local departments, home owners associations, all should be able to help develop plans.
"That's why the most important person protecting your life and property is you. With advance planning and preparation, you can dramatically increase your safety and survivability of your property."