July 9, 1989

Sugar Loaf residents watch the fire coming up Black Tiger Gulch. Photo courtesy of Barbara Lawlor of the Mountain Ear

Photo courtesy of Barbara Lawlor of the Mountain Ear

Photo courtesy of Barbara Lawlor of the Mountain Ear

A rescued duck. Photo courtesy of Barbara Lawlor of the Mountain Ear

Excerpts from Dawn Kummli's Sugar Loaf's Black Tiger Fire, copyright 1990 and used by permission of the author.

About 1700, before the white man arrived on the scene, foresters have determined that a 100,000 acre fire burned the foothills of Fort Collins. Eldora experienced a 7200 acre fire in 1900. On July 6, 1971, Sugar Loaf Firefighters responded to a fire in the Black Tiger Gulch..... There were innumerable fires in the front range over the years, but none quite as devastating to homes as the Black Tiger Fire on July 9, 1989.

Most of the early photos of the foothills show a sparseness of trees. Some of the trees were cut to timber mines and build homes. Have you ever wondered how the present day trees have developed? Some trees are over 100 years old, long before the Earth Day planters. Today, there is a dense natural growth of trees all over the front range, which didn't exist when the first pioneers arrived. According to tree ring counts the generation of this growth took place during a twelve year period of high moisture in the 1920s. Most of the 50 foot trees are from that period of moisture, varying from one to three feet in diameter depending on their location with respect to underground moisture.

An old Indian proverb says - "Judge no one until you have walked a mile in their moccasins." How true. Put your feet into the boots of the Sugar Loaf Fire Fighters on July 9, 1989. The majority of the Sugar Loaf crew were called to Sunnyside (in Boulder Canyon) where the fire began. By the time most of them arrived, the fire was already out of control and racing up the CHIMNEY (Black Tiger Gulch) towards their homes on Sugar Loaf. What could they do? Nothing, but try to keep the fire from burning homes in Sunnyside.

They knew by the time they reached their homes on Sugar Loaf they might be gone. Can you imagine their thoughts about the safety of their families! There was no way they could know their loved ones got out safely, or if they lost their homes. Still, they stayed on the lines and fought to protect the homes in Sunnyside.

Some of them worked on into the night before they were relieved. Others worked all through the night. They had to locate their families who had evacuated and to find out if they still had homes to go to. The irony, shock, helplessness and frustration they endured was above the call of duty.

Three of our Fire Fighters did lose their homes and their loss was no greater nor less than the other families who lost their homes.....The physical encounter with the fire also left its mark on their bodies. Breathing smoke as hot as 100 plus degrees and concentrated, that is, very reduced in oxygen, would effect even the healthiest individual. Aubin Swindell remarked he had to bury his face in the dirt several times to get enough air in his lungs. They all suffered burns from flying embers, at the whim of the wind.

Also be sure to check out:

Drought, Fire & Flood Homepage
Drought - Fire - Flood - It's All Connected

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