By Erin Allen & Sara E Walker
In the entirety of our lives, neither of us would ever have imagined witnessing, much less living through, a wildfire. Yet, we are currently doing just that. The 416 Fire. Apparently the fifth largest in Colorado history.
It is quite a surreal moment, looking up into the beautiful San Juan National Forest and watching it burn. Watching the planes and helicopters fly within yards of the smoke and flames, dropping water and retardant to try to curb the danger and devastation. Observing the stark reminder of the fire in the burnt landscape left in its wake.
It is quite another thing altogether to be within 500 yards of the fire, watching angry orange flames take over, as we stand on our front porch knowing the fire is literally across the street. It is almost as if we could reach out and touch it.
We were evacuated from Friday, June 1 to Wednesday, June 13. Two weeks. Our neighborhood was one of the first to be put on notice, as the fire started in our area north of Durango. We were actually in town golfing when the evacuation order was issued. We couldn't get back up the mountain in time, since the roads were already closed. Our first impressions of the 416 Fire were from a golf cart. Talk about a moment — sitting on the lush greens of a golf course only to see plumes of orange-red smoke billowing up into the sky like puffy clouds with the blue of the sky in such direct contrast. The scene didn't look real but rather like a painting. We felt frozen as we watched the smoke, not knowing how close it was from our home.
Just as the hardworking fire crews put out one pocket of the fire or built lines to mitigate and protect, the fire grows and moves elsewhere. From day one, the fire consumed more than 1,000 acres per day. As of the time of this posting, the fire is over 34,000 acres and 20 percent contained. The 416 Fire is alive, it has a personality. Watching it move and heave is unlike anything we've ever witnessed before.
The fire, too, is quite literally like night and day. During the day, much of what you see is smoke with blazes peeking through the haze every now and then. The smoke fades from black to grey to white and wafts into the air, moving with the wind. The ash mixes with the dandelions and floats across our vision. The smoke settles over the valley worse than any San Francisco fog. At night, the inferno takes centerstage, quite visibly igniting the fuel that is the Alpine trees and other vegetation.
Even now, as we watch the fire move south and west, we are granted moments to watch the fire up close. It is at once a privilege and a curse, for the fire is completely unpredictable but also an awe-inspiring sight. Words really can't describe what has happened here and what we have seen.
The men and women on the ground are doing an amazing job of protecting our town and our home. The support and kindness of the Durango community gives us hope.
In hindsight, we are lucky. While the fire ravaged our little slice of the San Juan National Forest, as of this moment, it appears to have moved from our area. Our home has come out unscathed, and the forest will renew itself. And, so will we. But the blemish of burnt landscape will be a constant reminder of this experience, burnt into our memories.