Thursday, June 28, 2012


Thursday June 28 2012

Colorado is Burning.

It's a firestorm of epic proportions, said the incident commander. It's an act of God, said another exhausted official. Some wildfire veterans say they've never seen anything like this one.

The Waldo Canyon fire line rages along the western side of Colorado Springs, flames engorging the skyline over the city, filling the front range with smoke up to 20,000 feet in the sky. The flames are 1 1/2 miles from my brother's house. They evacuated 2 days ago and are staying with friends, anxiously listening, watching, hoping, and praying.

I've heard and read about and glanced at pictures of wildfires over the last couple of years, big fires, burning tens of thousands of acres, and I thought, bummer. But now it really hits home.

As of Thursday morning - 5 days after the fire started - over 18,500 acres (29 square miles) had burned with 5% containment. The cause is still under investigation. 32,000 people have been evacuated. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed. So far, no one has died or been injured, which is a miracle.

Today, mercifully, the weather is cooperating somewhat, without the 60 mph multi-directional gusty winds that have made the fire so unpredictable and out of control, although there is still wind, and record heat (in the low 90's) and low humidity, and the chance of thunderstorms, increasing the possibility of more fires started by lightning. Firefighters from around the country and across multiple agencies are now in place on all edges of the fire, and expect to contain a larger portion of the fire today with the better weather.

Not to underestimate the danger to people, the danger to large animals is also real. This photo has been posted on Facebook and several news websites:

Volunteers are hauling away horses and cattle from the danger zones. reports 200 horses have been evacuated from near Manitou Springs and are being cared for.

Stolen Horse International (
offers free listings to any owners who are missing horses from the fires (as well as other major disasters).

Horse Evacuations East ( connects people who need evacuation assistance and shelter for horses during a natural disaster to those who can provide it.

Consider donating to Stolen Horse International, or to the Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region online at

(As always, when donating to any cause, do your homework and make sure it is not a scam - the Good People come out in an emergency, and so too, unfortunately, do the Scammers.)

Two weeks ago we had a fire in Owyhee County along the Snake River 20 miles from here as the Raven flies, over the trails we'd just ridden 2 weeks earlier on the Owyhee Fandango endurance ride. The winds kept it moving away from us. A month ago, a small fire started about 10 miles from here, closer to the mountains. A thunderstorm may have started it, but another convenient thunderstorm kindly put it out.

But if we had a closer fire? It's not like we'd be told to evacuate - we'd just have to keep an eye on things and decide for ourselves.

It makes me think - what would I do?

Get the horses out of here first of all - trailer them if there's time, drive them, chase them, cut fences...

And then? If I had a day… or a couple of hours, obviously I'd have time to load my car, or a horse trailer with stuff.

But if I had 30 minutes... or 5 minutes… what would I grab? Computer, cameras, Raven, passport…?

If you had 5 minutes, what would you grab before fleeing?

P.S. Thursday night update - my brother's neighborhood so far survived, and the southern part of it has been downgraded to a pre-evacuation notice. (But it's not out of danger yet - his northern area is still under evacuation notice.) Fire size is down to 16,750 acres at 15% containment, 346 homes destroyed. One person has been found dead so far. Tremendous progress today by the firefighters and cooperative weather.


  1. Wow, I had no idea. Thanks for posting this. What would I bring...?

    It reminds me of what I read recently about Chernobyl. The town had a few minutes to evacuate (after not being told of the danger for two days!) and then they were told that the evacuation would only be for a few days, so many of them did not bring personal belongings! Over 20 years later they have not been allowed back. Wild horses have taken over the area, and it's been declared a nature preserve. These animals have adapted to living in radioactive conditions.

    I cannot imagine being told a fire is approaching, you may or may not lose everything: (

  2. Terrifying. So glad your brother (and house) are safe, but I feel so sad for all those who have lost everything. It is good to have a plan, but with all the horses it would be hard. I read about keeping a grease stick (like for an endurance ride) to write your number, name, anything on them if you have to leave them behind.

    I had to evacuate in about 10 minutes from a wildfire. Pets, some clothes, a box of photos all got put in the car. With extra time I ripped the computer out of the wall, grabbed a few random things, and drove off. Surreal.

  3. God bless all those who put themselves in danger to fight fires, on the ground and in the air.
    My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes, and to the family of the one who died.
    We are keeping an ear out for evacuation notices here- but for the opposite reason- floods. The Kootenay River flows north out of Idaho in to Kootenay Lake, and the lake level is really high right now, with still more snow to melt in the mountains. We live on a flood plain- former river bottom that was reclaimed many years ago and protected by a system of dykes. There is one dyke between us and a wall of water that is easily 10 feet above the level of the land we live on. What to do to evacuate has been on my mind lately. The animals would come first- everything else is replaceable. I'd probably load the mares and ride Beamer, the dogs and cats would go in the truck or car. If time permitted, I'd take a few items including my hard drive and camera.
    Praying for good weather both for us and the fire ravaged areas, although they need the rain, and we need the sun.

  4. I really hope this gets under control soon and that no more property and lives are lost. Fires scare me to death. We had a big one (Oakland Firestorm) several years ago. So many beautiful places gone to ash.

    My dogs would be the first thing I'd grab. My husband of course. My "things" I can leave here. If they are important to me, I'll keep them in my heart.

  5. Lytha, interesting about the Chernobyl wild horses. Still not sure I'd like to visit the 'nature preserve' there...

    Irish Horse, a grease stick is a great idea!!!

    Shirley, oh yes, send the rain south!

    Linda, your last sentence is just perfect : )

  6. I have three horses and one trailer with enough room for two. It'd be horrible....

    I'd grab my cats, my wallet, a change of clothes and my cell phone. Probably take the flash drive from my computer with all my back ups. Trouble is, could I grab all five cats and get them in the car together in five minutes?

    Had a forest fire here about 50 years ago. The worry has stuck in my mind ever since.

  7. Really, truly breaks my heart. Great question... When it comes right down to it, the living and breathing people and creatures are what matters most. Keep us updated.

  8. Dogs, horses, laptop, camera, iPhone, some original art & old photos, if I could. If I couldn't.....dogs and horses. And, I think, checking on the neighbors is vital. This is when I wished I had a stock trailer. I have a van to fit all my dogs, but a 2 horse trailer leaves 4. Scary. I feel for the people who have to make these choices. I know when I lived in the So. Calif. high desert our town had an evacuation plan especially for horse owners. I did not own a trailer when I lived there and I would have had to let me horses go if I couldn't get help. I helped move some studio dogs for a trainer one summer. They lived in a very scary area, in a canyon with limited access. People get together fast to help others in emergency situations.

  9. Glad to hear your bother's home is safe so far, too close for comfort for sure.

  10. Run, run if u need to. Stinking fires everywhere here....not on us tho

  11. This has become a part of my reality since leaving Seattle for Western Australia. We have bush fires every summer...sometimes close, sometimes in the distance, but always a threat. You MUST have a fire plan when living in the desert, Merri. We will not get a notice to leave in time, so it is up to us and our neighbors to manage ourselves and our animals. Get out is always the 1st option, before it becomes too dangerous to leave. We also have a fire fighting unit on the property if we can't get out. The horse community here is amazing when it comes to evaucating animals during a fire. We are all part of an on-line community that comes together on the minute by offering safe refuge...paddocks, homes, horse trailers. whatever someone might need. We take care of each other because waiting for assistance takes too long and can be disastrous. Lightning, arson, car fires that spread...seen it all here. All the best to your brother and family and everyone else caught up.