Reflections on the High Park Fire, Part I: The Flames of Drought

Sunday, June 10: The High Park Fire incinerates the hogback ridges just west of Fort Collins at the north end of Horsetooth Reservoir. This was the second day of the fire.

I’ve been absent from this blog for most of the last month because I’ve been busy covering the High Park Fire and a plethora of other things for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Before Colorado Springs burned, Larimer County incinerated in our own 87,000 acre inferno that is now the second-largest (behind 2002’s Hayman Fire) and second-most destructive (behind the still-burning Waldo Canyon Fire, which torched the Springs last week) wildfire in Colorado’s history.

I did a lot of writing about the fire, but despite all the pictures I’m dumping on my blog today, I didn’t do much good photography of it. It’s been a long three weeks in Colorado, where extreme drought is as tangible as the crackling cheatgrass beneath your feet and as blatant and perverse as 350 homes incinerating on national TV, live from Colorado Springs. Before I go on, let me share this:

Our hopes for rain manifest before us: A week ago, we received the first appreciable rain we’d had in weeks in Fort Collins. It was a hell of a light show, and a great sign of hope when Colorado was (and remains) burning all around us. This was the view from my back porch as the sky unleashed its very, very welcome fury. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

The day the High Park Fire broke out, Jacob and I went to Golden for a wedding. Once we hit the freeway, we noticed a tall column of smoke hovering over the foothills west of Fort Collins. 24 hours later, that column looked like this:

Smoke from the High Park Fire enveloped Fort Collins on June 10. I shot this from a high point on Colo. 14 just west of Ault in Weld County — about 15 miles due east of Fort Collins. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

This is what we were breathing in Fort Collins the first couple of days of the High Park Fire. Taken from Weld County, east of Fort Collins. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

June 10: The High Park Fire’s smoke above Edora Park. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

As the brush on the slopes of the hogback ridges on the edge of the Plains incinerated a few miles northwest of Fort Collins, disaster tourism was briefly big business:

Traffic on the county road just north of Bellvue during the High Park Fire’s push toward the plains on June 10. This road usually carries more cyclists than cars and almost never sees a traffic jam. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

This is what they were looking at:

June 10: The High Park Fire glows just west of Bellvue, northwest of Fort Collins. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

And this, on a different county road closer to Poudre Canyon:

June 10 west of Bellvue. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

Days of extreme heat reinvigorated the High Park Fire two weeks into its burn, and set the stage for numerous other blazes to burn down hundreds of homes across the state.

June 23: Two weeks into the High Park Fire, the Woodland Heights Fire breaks out in Estes Park at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. With the High Park Fire burning in the distance (you can see High Park’s pyrocumulus smoke clouds towering over Lumpy Ridge in the far distance), helicopters fighting the High Park Fire flew to Estes to launch a full-throttle assault on the Woodland Heights Fire. It worked, but before losing 23 homes. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

June 23: The Woodland Heights Fire burns at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. Had the airpower summoned from the nearby High Park Fire not been so close everything in this frame — and possibly much, much more — could have been incinerated. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

June 23: A helicopter dumps a load of water from Lake Estes on a burning house during the Woodland Heights Fire. The mountain in the background is in Rocky Mountain National Park. © 2012 by Bobby Magill

June 23: The High Park Fire’s pyrocumulus grows in the distance above Rocky Mountain National Park’s Lumpy Ridge and Estes Park. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

June 24: It rained. Hard. But only in Fort Collins. Not on the High Park Fire. © 2012 by Bobby Magill.

Reflections on the High Park Fire, Part II coming shortly…

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