While the fire is not out, the Evacuation Warning for my neighborhood has been lifted, and Golden has enjoyed clear skies for the last 36 hours. So while the fire isn't over, its direct impact on me is. I wanted to capture my thoughts and experiences while they were still fresh...
The fire, known as the #goldenfire on Twitter, or the Indian Gulch fire in the media, was first visible during the morning of Sunday, March 20th. I first noticed it late Sunday morning while near Lookout Mountain. The fire was not far from our home, so we headed home quickly to see what was happening. Upon arrival we were greeted by two messages on our answering machine. The first message notified us to evacuate immediately! The second message (approximately 30 minutes later) notified us that we should simply prepare to evacuate, but that evacuation was not necessary at this time. We were glad we were not home to get the first call!
Smoke from the fire was clearly visible from our house, so I grabbed my camera bag and headed outside. This was the view just outside my house:
I continued around the block, and in addition to seeing many of my neighbors, I was greeted by the view of a helicopter refilling its water bucket from a small pond just behind a neighbor's home.
There was a small contingent of Golden Firefighters supervising the operation and keeping us from getting too close. However, they did allow us to get quite close, and I was able to get several pictures of the helicopter in action:
Throughout the afternoon, the fire kept threatening to come over the ridge and down the hill towards our homes. Here are a few pictures I took from our neighborhood:
The helicopter was dropping most of the water on the other side of the ridge, but I did catch a shots of the helicopter in action:
Sunday was a very tense day. I spent most of the day watching the helicopter work, and meeting many of my new neighbors. Throughout the day, all of my information about the fire came from the Police, Firefighters, and Park Rangers on site, and Twitter. Twitter deserves some special mention.
My first tweet about the fire didn't contain the #goldenfire hash tag. But after searching twitter for 'Golden Fire', I found that the #goldenfire hash tag was being used, and started adding it to my tweets. After a little while I took a break and uploaded some of the pictures I took and posted them both on twitter and on SmugMug. Many of my twitter updates (tweets) were quickly repeated (re-tweeted) by others in an effort to share the experiences I captured.
Twitter quickly became my go-to resource for updates on the fire. Special mention also needs to go to Misty Montano, who is the Digital Content Manager @ 9News. She created a Storify page on the fire, aggregating many different social media sources to create a summary view of many different news sources. Thanks for your efforts Misty!
Sunday evening, the fire still seemed to be right on top of us. I set out to see what I could see, and was able to capture this picture from just around the corner from my house:
I think this image really illustrated the fear that many residents felt as the fire loomed over our neighborhood. It must have struck a nerve, as the version I posted on twitter has over 6,000 views in the 4 days since I posted it.
The helicopter did a great job of draining the pond Sunday afternoon, and the Golden FD used a pump truck to refill the pond Sunday evening and throughout the day Monday to enable the helicopter to continue to operations.
Sunday evening was a stressful night. The smell of smoke permeated our house, and we were concerned we would get a call in the middle of the night instructing us to leave. Fortunately, that was not the case.
I stayed home from work Monday, with the expectation that we would need to leave some time during the day. I spent much of the day walking through the neighborhood, taking pictures, and talking with my neighbors.
Monday brought out news crews, and many more Firefighters. Here is a picture of a news conference:
After the news conference, the news crews stuck around to get some reactions from local residents:
Monday afternoon the winds began to pick up, and hampered both helicopter operations as well as press conferences:
Fire crews were also visible from our neighborhood on the ridge between us and the fire. Here is a picture of a Fire Fighter keeping watch on the ridge:
As the winds picked up, the smoke began to engulf the Northern part of Golden. This view from my neighborhood looking Northwest shows just a part of the huge smoke cloud.
Monday evening I drove around Golden to better understand the scope of the fire. The first picture is from Mount Zion to the South of the fire. You can see the burned out valley, with a few remaining open fires in the valley and a significant amount of smoke in the sky above.
The second picture, from North of the fire, shows more active fires.
By Monday night there was hope that life may go on, as I posted on twitter: "All is quiet in Mntn Ridge tonight. Everyone going about their lives. Winds still blowing, a few news and fire trucks around. #goldenfire"
It was still tough to sleep Monday night. We still believed that evacuation was extremely likely. But Tuesday morning came, and I headed back to work in an effort to be optimistic and hopeful that we could return to normalcy. However, high winds Tuesday afternoon, as well as pictures of Firefighters digging trenches behind the houses in our neighborhood, sent me home early. Luckily, this proved unnecessary. But high winds Tuesday night were a big concern. I posted: "Stopped on mt Zion for a picture. So windy I can't get my door open. Car is rocking back and forth. Getting seasick! #goldenfire"
Wednesday morning, after an afternoon and night of high winds without the fire getting significantly closer to us, brought some confidence that things may be improving. Life began to return to normal, and I was able to go for a run in Golden without choking on smoke. I posted "Hard to tell the #goldenfire is still burning from mountain ridge, other than the helicopters and planes flying overhead."
Conditions continued to improve Thursday, culminating in the cancellation of the 'prepare to evacuate' order at approximately 5:30 on Thursday evening (tonight).
The response to this fire was impressive on many fronts. All of the Firefighters did a great job fighting the fire, the Police were on scene making sure everyone stayed calm and kept their distance, as well as the Jefferson County Sheriff and Jefferson County Open Space Park Rangers. There were also many folks working behind the scenes, including the Golden Public Works, who ensured that the Golden FD could continuously refill a pond while maintaining water pressure throughout the town.
Social Media, particularly Twitter, was a great resource. I was able to share what I observed, and learn what others in and around my community were seeing. The information on Twitter was generally accurate, and usually more timely than other resources. I was even able to scoop the major news organizations (by about 3 minutes) on the first evacuations. I found Twitter useful before, but this week I found it critical. There is no other resource available today to share experiences and information about an event like this. And its already impressive penetration rate increased, as I noticed several people opening new accounts (family members included) to follow the news. My friends throughout the country were able to follow the situation and send notes of encouragement. Thanks to everyone that checked in with me!
Special thanks goes out to the City of Golden, specifically our Mayor and Councilman. They made great use of Twitter, as well as checking in with us in person. Thanks @jacobzsmith and @GoldenBilFish! Golden even streamed their special City Council meeting tonight online (as they do with all their City Council meetings). Progressive Government!
Here is Jacob Smith, our Mayor (in the green shirt on the left), checking in on the situation Sunday afternoon:
You can see all of my pictures in these two photo galleries:
Golden Fire Day 2
While I'm proud of the pictures I took, there were some really great pictures taken by Jeff Warner, one of my new neighbors that I met this week. Here are the links to his pictures:
Indian Gulch Wildfire Heli Ops
Indian Gulch Wildfire at Night
Indian Gulch Fire Day 2
Indian Gulch Fire Night 3
Indian Gulch Wildfire Day 4
There were many other people posting pictures, and the local news organizations were able to capture some impressive shots, but it was my neighbors and the updates on Twitter that dominated my attention.
Our neighborhood is thankful to everyone who helped out, and signs thanking the Firefighters could be found throughout our neighborhood Thursday evening:
Looking back, it was an event that had a very significant emotional impact on me, while (thankfully) having no lasting effects. It can be tough to handle the stress of a situation that you cannot impact, and I found the constant low-grade stress exhausting.
I also found it instructive on how much more significant local events are. In the days before the fire, I was obsessed with the Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear problems in Japan. From Sunday morning through Wednesday night, Japan completely dropped off my radar. But in the end, my 'crisis' was trivial compared to the devastation they face, which only further illustrates how lucky I feel.
Thanks again to everyone who has helped (and continues to help) fight this fire, and others throughout Colorado and the United States. Thank you for keeping us safe!