Black bear eating from my apple tree, August night, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

High Park Fire Update, Larimer County, Colorado

Instead of a photo of a smoke-filled sky, I'm happy to post this pic of a day lily that opened this morning in my garden.
I'd like to extend a big "thank you" to everyone who has e-mailed, telephoned, or sent me other messages wishing us well during the devastating High Park wildfire here in our county. I'm thrilled to report that this morning, I saw no smoke plumes whatsoever from my vantage point on Overland Trail Road. Not that the fire is out, by any means, but it sure was nice to see blue sky.

At this time, the fire is 55% contained, with over 68,000 acres burned. 189 homes are confirmed lost (including the home of a colleague of mine) and one person, a 62-year-old grandmother, has perished.

Everyone here in the area of the fire is so grateful for the presence of the many firefighters and assistance personnel who have been toiling non-stop to get this blaze under control. At this time, nearly 2,000 people are working this fire, and I'm not sure that number includes the volunteers who may be assisting with operations. Signs have popped up all along Overland Trail, the route that the fire vehicles take to their staging area, reading "THANK YOU!" and I have seen small crowds stand to applaud fire trucks en route to the fire.

From the website (The High Park Fire is incident #2904) here are some updated statistics and helpful information regarding the fire:

18 helicopters: 8 Type 1 Helicopters; 3 Type 2 Helicopters; 6 Type 3 Helicopters 
 (3 Blackhawk Helicopters included in those numbers)
2 Heavy Air Tankers (available if needed)
135 Engines
16 Type 1 Hand Crews
25 Type 2 Hand Crews
25 Water Tenders
5 Dozers
6 Feller Bunchers to cut and gather trees

As of 6/19/12 nearly 1.3 million gallons of water have been dropped on the fire.

At approximate 5:30 a.m. on Monday, June 18, 2012, a person assigned to the fire was involved in a non- life threatening injury. They were transported by ambulance to the hospital for treatment. The accident was not fire line related.

Larimer County opened the High Park Fire Disaster Recovery Center on June 15, at Johnson Hall on the Colorado State University Campus. The center is open Mon.-Fri. from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The center will likely remain open for 3-4 weeks. More information about the Disaster Recovery Center at

Register cell phones for notifications at
The Humane Society is providing assistance for evacuated people who need help with rescue and welfare of animals behind the road blocks. Call 226-3647 ext. 7.

Some 50 National Guard members are assisting with roadblocks.

The cost of the fire to date is $19.6 million. 

The good news is that today's weather conditions will be favorable for fire suppression, with temps in the low 80s and light winds. The weekend is supposed to get much hotter, so here's hoping that today's efforts are optimal. Good luck and thanks again to everyone working to suppress the fire.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The High Park Wildfire, Larimer County, Colorado

The first sign of trouble Saturday afternoon--early smoke cloud over our neighborhood

I want to extend a big "Thank You!" to everyone--friends, family, blog readers, and Facebook friends--for all your good wishes this past week. The High Park wildfire here burning west of our home started on Saturday morning, due to lightning, and has been consuming our thoughts (and nearby habitat!) ever since. To date, more than 50,000 acres (about 80 square miles) have burned. Yesterday evening, a thunderstorm caused winds to blow the fire across a natural fire break--the Cache la Poudre River--forcing the evacuation at 11 PM of more residents. At this time, the fire is 15% contained. Here's a link to the current situation (it's updated frequently):

It was really scary around the neighborhood on Sunday afternoon. Saturday night winds were gusty and fueled the then 10,000 acre fire with oxygen. Our neighboring town, Bellvue, was evacuated, and from the bike trail less than a half-mile from my home I could see massively tall flames licking the hillsides to the south. Smoke was so thick and heavy it was difficult to breathe, and for days the yard, deck furniture, plants, etc. were covered with ash and large pieces of burned tree bark.

Right now it is breezy again, so I am a bit concerned. It's also thundering, which is good and bad. Good because we might get rain. Bad, because where there's thunder, there's lightning, the hottest known energy--53,000 degrees F. No wonder it sparks fires, especially in our current forest situation--lots of trees killed by pine beetles, and lots of drought-stricken, dry fuels just waiting to burn.

Please keep us in your thoughts. Also sending good wishes to all the firefighters here, from surrounding communities and across the nation. Other big fires are burning elsewhere, especially two in New Mexico. Let's hope we can suppress and contain these blazes quickly, with minimal loss of life-- to humans, wildlife, and the gorgeous and important habitat we treasure.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Transit of Venus

On Tuesday, June 5, 2012, Americans will be treated to a rare astronomical event --the Transit of Venus. The planet Venus will be positioned between the sun and the earth, so Venus will appear as a dot against the sun. Check out the Transit of Venus web site for all you need to know about witnessing this spectacle. Why is the transit so rare? Here's the answer form the web site:

Transits of Venus have a strange pattern of frequency.  A transit will not have happened for about 121 ½  years (prior to 2004, the last one was 1882).  Then there will be one transit (such as the one in 2004) followed by another transit of Venus eight years later (in the year 2012).  Then there will be a span of about 105 ½ years before the next pair of transits occur, again separated by eight years.  Then the pattern repeats (121 ½ , 8, 105 ½ , 8).

Also from the site, a blurb chock-full of helpful links:

Whether and when you can see the 2012 transit of Venus depends on your location.  Key highlights include the four "contacts" near the beginning and end of the transit when Venus appears to touch the edge of the sun.  Most of North America sees the beginning of the transit in the afternoon and evening (find a clear western horizon!) on June 5, whereas much of Eurasia sees the end of the transit in the morning (find a clear eastern horizon!) on June 6.
Click to access and enlarge PDF version of map showing visibility of 2012 transit of Venus.  Courtesy of Fred Espenak (NASA GSFC), who provides additional transit of Venus data from NASA.

QUICK TIP:  For date and times of the transit of Venus itself at your location, see Local Transit Times.  For an interactive map showing events near you, see NASA Sun-Earth Day Event Locations.

Of course, you can't just stare up at the sun to view the transit, or you'll severely damage your eyes. Proper solar viewing devices must be used. Some people recently picked up solar glasses to view the recent solar eclipse, and those will work just fine. The Transit web site has resources for obtaining viewing devices that provide proper eye protection. Another option, especially if your location happens to be cloudy in late afternoon and early evening, is to view the transit safely in real-time via the web. Once again, go to the Transit web site for more information, and enjoy.