Wildfire west of Boulder

By Phil Plait | September 6, 2010 12:15 pm

[Update 20:20 MDT: My brother-in-law took some amazing pictures of the fire, including this one of the reddened sunset, and this one after dark.]

Right now as I write this there is a pretty big wildfire in Gold Hill, Colorado, about 15 kilometers west of where I live. There’s a thick pall of orange-brown smoke going straight over us.

This is the view to the west a little while ago, toward the foothills of the Rocky Mountains:

You can see the Flatirons to the left. The smoke totally blocks the hills north of there though. The smoke is much wider now from my view, covering almost 90° of the horizon, and the plume is clearly several kilometers across.

The Sun is shining through, but it’s dulled to an orange ember:

Ironically, the morning started off cool and breezy, the first autumn-like day we’ve had. I went upstairs to tell The Little Astronomer to open her windows to let in fresh air… and when I opened her shade I saw the plume.

[Update: I just walked outside (12:30 MDT) and there’s ash falling all around us. It’s very light, but holy crap.]

We’re safe here, I’m sure, but we can certainly smell the smoke, and the sky has an eerie cast to it. It’s been dry this year and the fire danger is pretty high. I hope they can contain this quickly, and that everyone involved is safe.

MORE ABOUT: Boulder, wildfire

Comments (48)

  1. I used to live just over the hill from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, so images like these were far to frequent.

    Now I live outside Bryce Canyon National Park, and we have prescribed burns. They stopped calling them controlled burns for obvious reasons. Scary stuff.

  2. On my way to the hardware store to grab some charcoal for the grill, I took a detour up towards NCAR to get a view…the smoke from there covers the entire northern part of the sky, with a sharp cutoff in the east where smoke-free wind driven air meets the smoke. Very glad I’m not up near Gold Hill, where apparently some structures are threatened, according to the radio. My thoughts with everyone up there, and very thankful for the local firefighters, who are most definitely laboring this Labor Day.

  3. Michelle R

    I live in Quebec City. A while back some wildfires that were rather far away had sent a huge plume of smoke over the city…


    I filmed that on the shore of the St-Lawrence. When I got back home, I was smelling like burnt wood. The sun was flat red disk high up in the sky, you would think it was setting.

  4. Sam

    Just google news searched for information. i live about 50 or 75 yards from where the fire started. Evacuation orders got out before there was much of a threat to anybody, but i would be pretty surprised if a fair number of the local houses aren’t hit. A lot of it just depends on the whims of the wind, i think.

  5. Crazy!!

    I live in a province which loses over 100,000 hectares of forest each year to forest fires. Last year, we lost 167,384 hectares in notable fires. Not sure what the figure would be if the smaller fire number were included.

    I’d be getting out of my home if I were that close to a fire. But I suppose I’m extra cautious of these things as I live in an area prone to wildfires and a province where every year, many cities needs to be evacuated.

  6. Floyd

    I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. All too often, there are wildfires in our state.

    One fire a few years back threatened or burned parts of Los Alamos NM, including both homes and technical sites. Talk to your local fire station to find out what to do to keep your home and property safe. I often involves removing trees or bushes that threaten your property.

  7. Scott

    Emergency Dispatch radio is available streaming from a scanner at http://www.radioreference.com/apps/audio/?feedId=591

    Stay safe, it sounds pretty intense.

  8. I hope you and your property stay safe.

  9. Caroline S

    I live in South Boulder, on Baseline Rd, and I can smell the smoke. The wind has just carried everything over here.

  10. ABR.

    We had a big wildfire scare here in the Sierra Nevada foothills two years ago. Fortunately for my family, the nearest fire was over five miles away and none of the evacuations included our neighborhood. Every morning, the cars (and house and yard….) would be covered in ash and burned leaves. Finding the burned pine cone one day was pretty scary.

  11. DrFlimmer

    Good luck and tons of rain for everyone involved!

  12. AKG

    I’m an astronomy grad student in Boulder (live off of Arapahoe) and I’ve been watching the smoke rise all day. It’s pretty scary!

  13. Bryan

    I live in Boulder near the CU campus. I left my window open last night, and woke up to my room smelling like smoke. Pretty crazy.

  14. Jesse

    Well damn. I have wedding plans at the Inn there next month. Please stay intact!

  15. andrea

    please keep us posted. We have a place on Magnolia Rd but are in NYC right now very and worried about Nederland, our home and friends.

  16. Concerned Citizen

    My husband is one of the firefighters on scene and I hope that everyone is safe. Other than loosing structures and a fire truck there have been no casualties so far.



    Here in London, U.K., we’ve already had tons (tonnes?) of rain! Bloody damned weather! ūüėź

  18. Jeremy

    CU resident. I woke up to a half orange half blue sky. Very eerie sight.
    The haze and smell came around noon.

  19. Jason

    That’s pretty much how all of California was in the 08 fire season. Red sun, thick smoke, light ash falling. Even living in SF, away from all the fires, it was not fun.

  20. JG

    Was up on Rollins Pass at 11:30 and saw the early stages of this. Coming out of the mountains on I-70, you can see the smoke trail to the east at least 50 miles.

  21. Robin

    My son lives by the University, how far is the wildfire??

  22. He kept blogging…wiiiiild…..wiiiild fire…

  23. One weekend in 2002 I was visiting a friend in the Poconos and noticed a strange orange light reflecting off my car. It took a minute to work out that the orange light was the sun. The air was full of the smell of smoke, and the sky was hazed over with it. It turned out that the smoke was from a forest fire – in Quebec.


  24. I live in Gunbarrel and took some photos of the smoke around noon:

  25. NAW

    I remember a number of years ago when south Georgia had a number of fires going on. The falling ash is the strangest part of it. And the layer of smoke and ash that get onto everything is bothersome. But as long as you remember that you are not in the main blaze you can over look these minor things.

  26. Marcus

    Ever heard of a bug-out bag?

    Even if you’re likely in the clear, having the important stuff (paperwork and items you can’t afford to lose) ready to go can’t hurt too much. If things go mammaries up, you can chuck it in the wagon and GTFO.

    But don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Fiiiiine. Just remember to prepare in case you aren’t.

    Also, it’s probably just me, but I’ll take my hurricanes any day to wildfires.

  27. Lisa

    I’m very concerned for my sister and bro-in-law’s home in Sunshine Canyon, they were evacuated earlier today and thank God are safe but have just done some major landscaping and getting their home to where they have always wanted it, my prayers go out to all involved in this horrible event and also praying for a miracle!

  28. shawmutt

    Good luck Phil, hope everything is fine!

    Am I the only one who thought of Silent Hill with the ashes falling?

  29. I used to live a few miles east of the Flats outside of Boulder and remember those fires all too well (It was only a few years ago). The smoke would drift for miles and miles, and sometimes, under the right conditions ,we would get treated to a blood-red moon. I say “treated” with as much reverence and duplicitous awe that I can muster: inspiring/horrifying and how fragile yet stalwart life really is. What a cycle! Hope you stay safe.

  30. Wendy

    5. Julia (Jules), you must live in BC, like me! Every summer this whole province burns to the ground. It’s getting scarier every year!

    Phil, CBC says 400 homes have been evacuated! Hope you and your family are safe.


  31. Monsignor Henry Clay

    My old buddy Bjorn Skovlin might be jumping on your fire. Those guys are awesome, much respect.

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    My thoughts are with you & my best wishes for your safety and property go out to you, Phil.

    We know all about wildfires – or bushfires as we call them – here in Oz. :-(

    Keep calm, decide what you are going to do well in advance – fight or flee – prepare & plan well remembering Canis Minor and your cat. But then I’m confident that you already know this and are.

    Hope, hope, *hope* things work out alright for you.
    Let us know how things are going if you can but don’t worry we’ll understand if you can’t.

  33. drow

    best wishes to all affected, from another ex-boulderista.

  34. Scott

    I’m also in the area (and also on Baseline, though farther east)… watching the whole north sky get brown with smoke over the afternoon was freaky. At one point late Monday afternoon, I walked up to the road to look west, and the foothills were all obscured by a white haze. I could make out a couple of hilltops, barely. It was like the world just stopped with the treescape. Yeesh.

  35. Nigel Depledge


    I guess there are drawbacks to living in Colorado after all.

    Kinda makes me glad I live on a damp little island where the biggest fires we ever have are when an oil refinery goes up.

  36. Robert Carnegie

    I’m somewhat surprised that a fairly big fire in Glasgow (Scotland) yesterday doesn’t seem to be reported on the BBC News web site. Oh well.

    Nothing compared to the night the whisky burned – but maybe I shouldn’t make a joke of that. “Britain’s worst peacetime fire services disaster.”

  37. Messier Tidy Upper

    Looks like the BA has survived to post another day – can you give us an update please Phil?

  38. firemancarl

    I know it’s wrong, but I LOVE fighting brush fires. For lack of a better term, they are “fun”. Before anyone complains about how twisted I am, just remember, that in order for me to do the job I love, someone has to be having a bad day. That being said, I don’t ever want to see anyone hurt or lose their property. However, if the “big one” going to happen, I wanna be there.

  39. Angela

    Wow, hope you and your family, and your neighbors, all stay safe! I second Marcus (#27) on the emergency bag- I prepare one anytime there’s a hurricane or massive snow storm headed my way in North Carolina.

    Good luck!

  40. viggen

    Wouldn’t be a summer in colorado if there weren’t a big fire somewhere. At least the wind has died down a lot this morning; that will help with containment. I so hate that sharp creosote odor. It kept me awake for hours last night. Given the location of the fire and the the lack of lightning recently, I wonder who started it.

  41. viggen

    I know it’s wrong, but I LOVE fighting brush fires

    Well, this one’s a full-on forest fire. And, it’s on mountainous terrain. I’m happy there are people like you around who actually want to fight such a fire, but I freely admit that it scares the piss out of me. Having lived in these mountains my whole life and been evacuated for fires bigger than this one and seen how hard it is to fight, contain and stop them when they really get moving, I can’t think of many things that are more frightening. Tornado would be up there, but out in a forest during a windstorm with a forest fire jumping tree to tree over top of me… yikes! And, firemen have to want to jump out in front of it!

  42. jjgboulder

    Robin, The fire is approximately 5 miles to the NW of CU Boulder, and is moving NE. There’s another set of hills it has to jump before we would even be able to see the flames from Boulder. All we see is the smoke, which is blowing NE. Boulder, itself, is in the plains so it’s highly unlikely that the flames would reach us. Depends on the winds, of course. If they switch to SE and go to 100 mph gusts, as they did with the Old Stage fire, then all bets are off.


  43. viggen

    My son lives by the University, how far is the wildfire??

    On the hills just up the canyon to the west of town, north of flagstaff peak–across the canyon. The University is open for class today and is not considered in the danger zone. Boulder proper is not considered in danger either, though Pearl St. must’ve had a good view of the smoke column yesterday. I could see the glow of the fires up in the hills as I dropped back down 93 into south Boulder at 10pm last night. Wish I’d had a good camera.

  44. Tim

    My family actually had to evacuate once due to a brush fire in San Diego. It was pretty eerie. In San Diego, it’s typically a brush fire consisting of 3-4′ dry grasses and bushes that burn. When the wind kicks up, they move FAST. Often faster than you can run. Especially up a hillside.

    Good luck Phil, and I’m sure you don’t have to be told to leave the heroics to the professionals.


  45. Nigel Depledge

    Robert Carnegie (37) said:

    Nothing compared to the night the whisky burned ‚Äď but maybe I shouldn‚Äôt make a joke of that.

    The whisky burned????


  46. Robert Carnegie

    “The whisky burned????”

    So did several people. Bummer. Seriously.

    Hey, I just thunk, if you wanted charcoal now, …

  47. Diann

    To FiremanCarl
    I know what you mean as I am a mental health therapist, and the most difficult cases I just LOVE and have so much FUN woring with. So I do not think there is anything”Wrong” or “twisted” its just what you are trained to do.Good Luck and have much Fun!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar