Fire on the MountainFires in Waldo Canyon, Colorado—and elsewhere—have affected the training and racing plans of trail runners throughout the American West. But the damage they have caused runs deeper.
Photo by Teresa Burgess of El Paso County S&R
On Monday, June 25, John O’Neill was confident that the Barr Trail Mountain Race was set to run as scheduled.
“We had a committee meeting that Monday and it was still on,” he says of the race, which he directs and which was supposed to be one stop in the 2012 La Sportiva Mountain Running Cup.
He had reason to be concerned about the 12.5-mile course. Starting near Manitou Springs, Colorado, and climbing a significant section of Pikes Peak to Barr Camp before descending back, the race was near the path of one of Colorado’s most destructive wildfires ever—the Waldo Canyon Fire. But it appeared the fire would miss the course. “[El Paso County] Search and Rescue’s concern was that there is no access to the trail except for two seldom-used fire roads, in case they needed to evacuate,” says O’Neill.
Then things took a turn.
“On Tuesday, when I went to finalize permits with the fire service, they were standing outside and said, ‘You should see this,’” he says. “The fire had gone three miles in one hour and destroyed a bunch of homes.”
Faced with the agonizing option of cancelling the race, O’Neill made up his mind: safety first.
“I said, ‘Please close the National Forest,’” he says. “I didn’t want to stress Search and Rescue or the National Forest people. And the people at Barr Camp said, ‘You’ve made the right decision.’”