Columbiana native gets first-hand experience with Colorado wildfires

Published 5:26 pm Friday, June 29, 2012


COLUMBIANA — Shelby County native Kayla Dodson Watts and her husband, Jason, who moved from their home in Northport about a month ago to Boulder, Colo., never thought they would come face-to-face with the threat of disaster from Colorado’s wildfires.

Kayla Watts

For Watts, who was in Columbiana on Friday visiting family, disaster was averted when the wildfire started by lightning last Tuesday in a canyon just outside Boulder was brought under control relatively quickly by firefighters.

“It’s not out by any means, but they’ve got it to the point that it’s just smoldering,” Watts said.

Compared to other parts of the state, like Colorado Springs, Boulder’s wildfire worries seem trivial, she said.

The Boulder fire started within five miles of Watts’ new home.

“You could see the flames in the mountains. It was a mile and a half from the Boulder city limits and I found out that’s the closest a wildfire has ever come to the city of Boulder,” she said. “Our street was the cutoff for the pre-evacuation area.”

Watts took this photo of outside her home in Boulder, Colo. It shows smoke from a wildfire in the canyon, less than five miles away. (Contributed)

Watts was packing for her trip home when she heard lots of thunder and lightning, which apparently started the fire.

“I kept thinking it would start raining, but it never did,” she said.

The threat to residents was not so much the flames, but the air pollution caused by the fire.

“The biggest concern as far as the evacuation for our area was the air pollution. But the night air had lifted most of that by Wednesday morning,” when she boarded a plane in Denver for her visit home.

Her husband stayed behind for work and is caring for the couple’s two pets: 3-year-old Ada, a Calico cat, and Delilah, a 3-year-old Siberian Husky.

“Jason has been taking Delilah to his office at work with him,” Watts said. The Watts moved to Boulder when Jason accepted a job with a mining safety company.

She said the Colorado wildfires were the primary topic of conversation of most on her plane leaving Denver Wednesday.

“Some people on the plane were leaving because they were evacuating,” Watts said. “Compared to other parts of the state, like Colorado Springs, the Boulder fire is like a little camp fire. Boulder does smell like a giant campfire right now.”

Watts is the daughter of Rusty and Lynn Dodson of Westover, formerly of Columbiana. She has two brothers: Aaron, 27, who lives in Memphis; and Austin, 18, who recently graduated from Shelby County High School.

Watts is a 2007 graduate of Shelby County High School. She and Jason moved to Northport shortly after they married in 2009. They were living in Northport, which is in the Tuscaloosa area, during the state’s April 2011 tornadoes.

“I wasn’t really scared at any time when the wildfire was getting close to our apartment. I mean, for me, this was completely different than the Tuscaloosa tornadoes. With the wildfire, at least there’s usually time to pack a bag and evacuate,” she said. “With the tornadoes, you find yourself running for your life to someone’s basement.”

That’s exactly what Watts did during those April tornadoes in Tuscaloosa: seek shelter in a neighbor’s basement. Fortunately, her home was not damaged by the tornado.

“One of the good things for Boulder, too, is the area where those fire and rescue planes are based is right outside the city, so the response time to the fire was very quick. And, right outside of Boulder is a reservoir, so the planes were able to fill up quickly and make more trips,” she said. “They were dumping that red powder – the flame retardant stuff — on the wildfire in about a half an hour. They were on it very quickly.”