October 30, 2014

Golden Fire Update: March 21, 2011

Indian Gulch Fire along U.S. 6 in Clear Creek Canyon (City of Golden photo).

The bad news first: our Indian Gulch fire was upgraded to a higher level of severity because of the size, winds, and intensity, and the weather forecast for the week is basically bad: high winds, low humidity, no precipitation.  And ours is just one of three active fires now here in Jefferson County, which just issued a “Disaster/Emergency Declaration.”

And some good news: we’ve got a Type One Incident Team (which basically consists of the best incident managers in the country) on the way to Golden, and they should be operational by late tomorrow.  We’ll continue to use all of our local crews but we’ll also have the benefit of the most experienced, best-trained big fire folks leading the strategy. The other good news is that the Evergreen fire seems to be calming down, which is good for Evergreen (it is very close to a lot of homes) and good for us, because it frees up some resources.

Information Flow
One problem with information updates during a fire like this is that much of the info quickly becomes inaccurate. If I had sent this email a few hours ago, I would have reported that the helicopters and tankers were all grounded because of the high winds, but by the time you actually read this email that might have changed (or even changed and changed back again a few times). Be aware that the information you are getting, even if from a reliable source and even if fresh, may change again quickly.

Wind
It’s a very tough fire, especially with the higher winds.  As the winds pick up the ability to actually fight the fire is dramatically diminished: the helicopters and tankers end up grounded and it becomes too dangerous for the ground crews to work near the fire (plus their fire breaks don’t work as well), which means the fire crews end up more in a structure defense mode. And because the conditions have been changing so significantly and quickly, you’ll see resources move around a lot.  If you live in Mountain Ridge, for instance, you’ve seen engines and fire fighters come, then go, then come back and then leave again.   

Evacuations
Parts of Golden Gate Canyon have already been evacuated, and other neighborhoods – including Golden’s Mountain Ridge – are on an evacuation alert.  For much of the afternoon the fire and winds shifted north, but it’s very clear that the direction and intensity of this fire can change quickly. If you live in Mountain Ridge or any other neighborhood with a preliminary alert, please be ready to leave quickly. If there is an evacuation order, you’ll have the option of moving to an evacuation center (probably Golden High School). If you are disabled and may need help leaving, please call the Jefferson County Sheriff (303-271-0211) now to make arrangements. And please don’t leave your pets! Foothills Animal Shelter should be able to help with any small pets that need a short-term home, and for anyone reading this with horses or other large animals, the Jefferson County Fairgrounds can help you out (although if you are in a neighborhood under a preliminary evacuation notice you probably want to relocate those large animals now).

Staying Updated and Getting Your Questions Answered
If you have any questions or concerns, email or call me (I’m having an easier time keeping up with emails right now than phone calls) or post questions on Twitter or my Facebook page and I’ll try to get you whatever info you need.  Councilor Fisher has also been very active on this, so you can reach out to him as well (bill@williamfisher.com, @GoldenBilFish, 303-588-3389). City staff has been working extremely hard, also, both on the immediate emergency and on preparations for the post-fire cleanup (e.g., preparing our water system for a potential increase in sediment into Clear Creek if we get erosion and debris flows).

Your best bets for staying on top of the situation:

1) Reverse 911. If you have a landline and are in one of the areas that has been put on preliminary evacuation alert or has actually been evacuated, you should have received one or more reverse 911 calls. This seems to be working well. However, if you don’t have a landline, you need to register your cell phone or VOIP # on the system. The problem is that it can take a week for your info to get updated, so if you are a new subscriber you can’t rely on this in the short term.

2) Local television news. I’m guessing they are all comparably accurate, but if anyone notices that one station seems to be more accurate than the others please let me know. Our city staff is worked super hard to get the local news stations good, timely info, although sometimes it does get lost in translation.

3) Jefferson County’s news release web page. They aren’t super frequent, but I’ve found the info they post to be very useful.

4) My Facebook page. I use my “Mayor of Golden” Facebook page a lot (although I don’t use my personal Facebook page very much, so that’s not the place to go for timely info on the fire), and I’m posting relevant information as I get it. There may be other good Facebook page information sources as well.

5) Twitter. You’ll find a huge amount of information and conversation if you set up a search on the #goldenfire hashtag (i.e., set up a search for “#goldenfire”). It’s real-time, which is very helpful, but if you follow that search term the sheer volume now can makes it tough plus the source of any given piece of info isn’t always clear. An alternative is to track tweets by specific sources you trust. Some options include the City of Golden (@CityofGolden), mine (@jacobzsmith), Councilor Fisher’s (@GoldenBilFish), and @MistyMontano (and there are many more). Either way you’ll find a lot of information there, and much of it seems to be accurate. If you aren’t using Twitter yet, you might find it useful now.

So far Golden has escaped any real damage from this fire, but it could still burn hot and dangerous for quite a while and there is still some risk that Golden residents will be significantly impacted.  If you see a fire fighter (from GFD or any other department – there are many others here helping out), a police officer, or anyone else on city staff, you might thank them for their incredibly hard work this week (and it’s only Monday).

Has anyone discovered any other really good information sources?

I’ll use my email newsletter and blog to keep folks updated (and there’s some good non-fire news to report as well!), but I’m finding that I can get info out much more quickly and easily on Facebook and Twitter, so that’s the place to look for more time sensitive updates.