Chasing Fire Author's Notes
On July 9, 2016,
two transients left an illegal campfire untended on private property in the
mountains above Nederland, Colo., where they had trespassed. Embers from their
campfire started a wildfire that threatened 1,000 mountain homes and the entire
town of Nederland. More than 1,900 people were evacuated, and eight houses were
burned before the fire was contained four days later. Nederland, which has
burned to the ground before, was spared this time.
I just happened to be listening to Boulder County’s police and fire channel, as I often do while writing, and I heard the nightmare unfold. I was struck by the selflessness of firefighters and law enforcement officers as they did their best to protect lives. One deputy said over his radio, “We tried to evacuate the houses on this street but the entire street is engulfed!”
I couldn’t imagine standing where he was standing at that moment.
Colorado had recently purchased a 747 Supertanker, and the images of the jet flying over the town to drop flame retardant on burning mountainsides were stunning. Just as amazing to me personally was the news that the fire had burned to within 36 inchesof my brother’s former in-laws’ home before being stopped by a direct hit from a slurry bomber.
Thankfully, no lives were lost in the Cold Springs Fire. At the end of the day, Colorado isn’t California. Fires here aren’t as severe as fires there.
In the aftermath of the Cold Springs Fire, the idea for this story was born. I wondered what it would be like to bring my two contemporary series together—the straight contemporary Colorado High Country series and my romantic suspense I-Team series. I had other writing priorities at the time, so this had to sit on the back burner.
Since then, catastrophic fires have devastated California, causing horrendous and unprecedented loss of life. The images from those fires and the stories of survivors are both chilling and heartbreaking. Who could imagine such a thing?
It is painfully clear that big fires have become a regular occurrence. Fighting them becomes more dangerous and challenging as more people move into the wildland-urban interface (WUI), building homes in areas that used to be far outside our cities. As local governments are unlikely to halt the expansion of towns and neighborhoods into the WUI, it becomes increasingly important that individual property owners work with firefighters to minimize the risks to their property—and to lives.
If you live in the WUI—in the mountains, in the chaparral, or in heavily wooded areas—contact your local fire department to find out what they think you should do to create defensible space around your home. Fire mitigation saves property, and it saves lives.
Above Nederland, one homeowner worked hard with the local fire department to mitigate fire risk on his land. He took the necessary steps, sacrificed some trees, made some alterations to his house—and I’m certain he’s glad he did. The eight houses that burned surrounded his, but his house still stands, an island untouched by the fire.
The best time to prepare for a catastrophic wildfire is long before it’s headed your way. Here in Colorado and much of the arid west, it’s not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.
Dec. 13, 2018