Lesson from Boulder’s Four Mile Fire

Get the real facts.

On the second day of the Four Mile Canyon fire, we knew that a good number of homes in my parents neighborhood had already burned. On the third day, I found a satellite image showing their home had not been burned. I was overcome with relief after days of tension. But a few hours later a close up of the same satellite image appeared with a caption at the bottom saying ‘Plane in flight/House on fire – Left Fork Rd.‘ and it clearly referred to my parents home.

When you look at these images, red is good – unburned, and dark green is bad – burnt. See the white home?  See the plane at the bottom left?

That caption underneath really frightened us, it was so official looking… we thought we were looking at the flames consuming the house. But after staring at it for about 10 minutes, I eventually saw so many inconsistencies (no smoke, perfect roof lines, the plane is white also, etc) that I decided it was a mistake. My parents home is the only one around with a metal roof. So, we think that the reflection from the roof and windows was so intense that it overloaded the sensors on the camera.

A few hours after this fright, a list of burned homes was published which included many of my parents neighbors homes but not theirs — putting this case to rest

The next night, we were advised to prepare our own property in North Boulder and be ready to evacuate. We took it seriously as our house is roughly at the mouth of the canyon and the winds regularly blast out with gusts of 40 to 50 miles an hour. The city ran a big tractor cutting grass at the edge of the open space while the helitankers passed directly over my house just 100 feet in the air every four minutes or so. It felt like a war zone and we scrambled to get ready.

Fortunately the firefighters (over 1,000 of them from all around the country by the end) did such a phenomenal job, no more houses burned and the fire didn’t spread. The fire could have entered some very large and extremely flammable mountain neighborhoods on Friday night.

My parents were allowed in to their neighborhood on Sunday and saw that the fire burned right up to the door and stopped. Actually it burned around three sides of the house and left the fourth untouched, leaving flowers blooming brightly without a care in the world.

The fire chief says the team was about to spray foam on the house to protect it when the fire suddenly jumped the road and raced towards the house causing the fire fighters to retreat in a hurry.  Apparently the mitigation work my father did during the last 10 years did the job.  This includes thinning trees, removing lower tree limbs, mowing the grass when it gets tall, and applying fire retardant paint.

A neighbor who did lose his home commented, “This isn’t the worst thing that’s happened in my life”.  And we know he’s right – he entered a concentration camp when he was 13 and came out at 17.

We are extremely grateful our Left Fork Rd. house was spared and deeply sympathetic for the 169 families including nine firefighters who lost their homes…

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