Chris Carmichael Blog: Fire on the Mountain

Training – and even the Tour de France, which starts today! – have been the last things on my mind this week. Unfortunately, the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs has been at the forefront of my thoughts all week.

It started last Saturday. Actually, one of my coaches – Jane Rynbrandt – was up on Rampart Range Road with some athletes when the fire started, and she captured this video shortly after it started: http://youtu.be/hv9ZrJnHEF4! A firefighter at the scene told the group to get down off the road as quickly as possible, and apparently they really put that Nissan Titan to the test! I’m incredibly thankful that she and our athletes got back to CTS safely, and over the past week the video and images they shot have garnered a lot of interest – from the media and the authorities investigating the cause of the fire. We’re of course cooperating with the authorities and we’re hopeful they’ll figure out what led to this awful event.

The rest of the weekend and start of the week were bad. There was a lot of smoke in the air, areas of town were on various levels of evacuation orders, the road to Woodland Park was closed, and the fire seemed was steadily incinerating thousands of acres of beautiful country. But no structures had been destroyed. Until Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 everything changed. Outflow winds from a thunderstorm nearby pushed strong winds toward Colorado Springs from mountains. The fire that had been high above town jumped ridges and chewed through canyons and rapidly descended into hillside neighborhoods. Watching the hurried evacuations on television and out our windows was scary, and I have no comprehension of how terrifying it must have been for the people stuck in slow-moving traffic who could see flames approaching in their rear view mirrors.


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For a long time, we believed that the evacuation of 32,000 people was so complete that no one was left behind in the inferno. Unfortunately we now know that two people lost their lives when the fire swept down into the neighborhoods. And at current count, 347 homes were lost.

Carmichael Training Systems headquarters was never in any danger, a few of my staff had to evacuate out of their homes, and CTS employees lost their homes in Tuesday’s firestorm.

Even though training was not a high priority in the overall scheme of things this week, I decided that one thing I could do to help the athletes in my community was to open my training facility to the cycling and triathlon community in Colorado Springs so they could train indoors in clean air and an air conditioned environment. With the heat, the smoke in the air, and the closure of all city parks (fire officials closed all city parks to reduce the risk of another fire starting up while so many resources were fighting the big fire), it wasn’t healthy for athletes to be training outdoors this week. And since it is now clear that the fire will impact the city for some time, I’ve decided to extend free access to our facility through the summer. We’ll be doing additional things to support victims of the fires as well, but opening the facility was a simple thing I felt we could do to help athletes in our community continue exercising.

Colorado Springs and the West aren’t the only places in the US that are dry and hot this summer. A couple of the things that have been reinforced by this week’s events here are:

  • Be aware when you’re in the woods: Keep an eye on the sky. The smoke plume from the Waldo Canyon Fire grew very rapidly, and for hikers and mountain bikers who were in the area that was all the warning they had. If you spot smoke get out of the area immediately, even if it seems reasonably far off. Wildfires can move with terrifying speed.
  • People who toss lit cigarettes on the ground and out car windows are a special kind of stupid. What sparked the Waldo Canyon Fire is still undetermined, but even this week as the mountainside was engulfed in flame I saw people tossing lit cigarettes out their car windows. I don’t understand how anyone can throw any trash out their windows, let alone flaming trash!
  • Pay attention to air quality: It’s rare that you get a dramatic shift in air quality within your local area. Rather, there are places with generally cleaner or dirtier air, but on a day to day basis the air quality stays relatively stable. This week, we went from clean mountain air to dense smoke, with varying degrees of haze in between. Even when it seemed the air was cleaner than the day before, it was still much dirtier than normal, and as athletes we all felt the difference. The lesson here is that when air quality in your area is worse than normal, please consider training indoors. You’ll have a higher quality training session, which leads to greater gains.  

Have a great weekend,
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

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