This was the race that wasn’t. Or couldn’t. Because of this. The High Park Fire.
Early Saturday morning, a small fire broke out just 15 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado; the check-in and start area for the 1st Annual Front Range Sprint Relay. At the time, a 2 acre wildfire didn’t seem much of an imposition. But when it had dramatically exploded to a few thousand acres around noon, everyone started to pay attention.
The plume was very noticeable from where the boy and I were, 50 miles south in Boulder, so I wasn’t surprised when an email from Paul (Timberline Events Race Director) popped up in my inbox.
…As of now, the race is on and will go. As you know, fires are a fluid situation so much could be different by later today and tomorrow morning…There may be air quality issues on the first legs but south of the fire right now is fine as the wind is blowing northeast…
We continued to go about our day, making last minute preparations for the race. And occasionally, we’d check the news too. By that Saturday evening, the fire had grown to 8,000 acres with 0% containment.
…As of right now, the race is on with no changes necessary. The fire is northeast of the route and the wind is blowing away from where we’ll be…Obviously, if the wind changes direction, we’ll have to make changes. Worst case scenario is the air quality of the first legs would be so smokey, running through it would not be good for your health. We’ll make adjustments on the fly tomorrow morning if need be…
With a 4:30 am wake-up call, we headed to bed early. But when we woke, there had been an effecting turn of events.
Winds had shifted. The fire had grown. And an email was waiting.
…Conditions have changed dramatically. Winds have moved the smoke and there is a haze from the start to at least South of Loveland. My fear is that the smoke is probably sitting along the foothills for the entire course…We are at the start and it is uncomfortable to breathe. We cant, in good faith, ask people to run in this smoke. So it is with a heavy heart that the only smart but difficult decision, is to cancel the race…
Paul continued to state that he and his crew were at the start if anyone wanted to venture out, pick up the race shirts, and lament over a canceled race. The boy and I immediately headed up.
Although we weren’t outside for long, just to pick up the packet and chat for a few minutes, my hair smelled like a campfire.
We then drove the first few legs of the course.
While a some of the smoke had certainly burned off from the sun (no pun intended), the haze was still thick and my eyes began to burn just a little while we were driving in the area.
No doubt, this was not the day to be a race director.
In a post-race email, Paul expressed his sorrow, and also the fact that the race could not be rescheduled. Sadly, one of the team captains, as well as one of the race coordinators, ended up having to evacuate their homes that very day.
As of now, over 36,000 acres are burning in that area. There is still 0% containment. Much focus is going into effectively evacuating families/animals from the area (there is a Wolf Habitat that has had to evacuate also). 36 straight hours of evacuations. No one knows yet how the fire was stared.
Pray for safety and a change in the weather.