When I updated the blog last time, after stage 1 of the Ft. Davis Hammerfest on Saturday, I had no idea that by late afternoon we'd all be scrambling to flee the flames that came from seemingly nowhere and invaded the town of Ft. Davis and burned dozens of homes. It was a surreal scene for me, and I know that others were much closer to the action than I was and experienced everything even more intensely—thankfully.
Here's the story: We started our second the stage as scheduled, at 2:30 p.m., with me as the starter who would give the final countdown for each of the 300+ racers who were going to leave the line in 30-second intervals. I love this job, as it is extremely intense—screw up on one rider, and the final results will lose their integrity. I thrive on this pressure and had asked for this assignment. What I had not asked for was a 30 to 35 mph wind that almost knocked the racers over. I am used to wind, but this was brutal. Yet, all the racers (except one) who had raced in the morning lined up. The other officials were excellent at making sure that the start order (which was based on the results of stage 1) was maintained, and all I had to worry about was a final check of the riders' identity and then giving them their countdown.
|At the start line, after we had to cancel the race—can you sense the wind?|
Positioned close to us at the start line was a paramedic, who had radio contact with law enforcement, and shortly after the first rider was off we all overheard the news that a fire had developed far south of town, west of Marfa, at least 20 to 25 miles away, but that it was rapidly increasing in size and advancing in the direction of Ft. Davis. It was at that point that we saw the first clouds of smoke and could smell it, too. I continued to send racers off, one every 30 seconds. The radio communications continued and seemed to take on more urgency, and half an hour into the race we were told that we might have to stop the race if the fire continued to advance. You need to realize that grass fires are different from forest fires—there isn't much bio-mass to burn, so they don't last very long, but they advance very quickly because of the nature of the tinder-dry vegetation. Add to that a wind that reportedly gusted up to 50 mph, and you can get an idea how that fire suddenly was closing in on our finish line, which was about 2 miles south of where we started the racers. About an hour and a half into the race I was told to stop since law enforcement had closed the two highways south of Fort Davis. I think we were all still hoping that we'd have a race on Sunday.
|Smoke advancing on the plain between Marfa and Ft. Davis ...|
|... and positively frightening on the mountains' backside|
|Looking toward Ft. Davis from Prude Ranch|
Fortunately for me, Mike and Candi were at their house on the NW side of town. I had planned to spend Sunday night with them, so they were surprised to see me on Saturday. We had a very nice evening together, and I finished off my drive home to Lubbock on Sunday morning. More wind—hard again, this time out of the north-west. I tell you, it blows all the time! It was so strong there was sand blowing across the road. I didn't get a photo of the worst part, right around Patricia, a place where nobody would want to be buried! Still, maybe the photo gives you an idea of what it looked like, though.
|Blowing sand and dust close to Lamesa|
A cold front blew through Lubbock yesterday, and this morning the sky is blue and clear of dust—who knows how long this will last. And who knows what awaits me this upcoming weekend when I travel to New Orleans for the half-Ironman event there.... Good thing it's not hurricane season, yet.