Wednesday, July 11, 2007

We're okay, really

Camp Connell, CA- Part of learning to live in the mountains of
California is explaining to friends from other parts of the world that
every time they hear on TV that California is going up in flames, or
experiencing a destructive earthquake, it isn't necessarily happening
right here.
Jimmy Buffett sings about fires and earthquakes, and
non-Californians tend to think of this rather large state as one big
shake-n-bake zone. But this is a BIG state, and we rarely even know
there is a problem until our friends back east call and ask if we are
That doesn't mean that we are blase' about fires and quakes. A
few weeks ago I was at the computer late at night when a giant thump
shook the house. That was a small earthquake over on the east side of
the mountains, just a reminder that the earth has not settled down yet.

When you live in the middle of the forest and it doesn't rain for
months, you understand it's only a matter of time before something
will catch fire somewhere. A few days ago the temperature was in the
high 90s even way up here at 5,000 feet, and the humidity was 12%.
Folks in the South Lake Tahoe region learned about the vulnerability of mountain living a week
ago, and more than 200 families are homeless today as a result.
We could smell the smoke from those fires on the evening breeze, even though
it was almost 100 miles north of us. It was a reminder of the
risks of living here in the woods. Now, another really big forest
fire is burning a hundred miles or so to the south.
But we tend not to think about it till something happens close enough to home to get our attention,
even though we are isolated and the only people who live on our
dead-end dirt road.
Helicopters got our attention quickly last night, about the time we were sitting down to dinner.
We had just enjoyed our very first rainfall since March. We could hear the thunder booming higher
in the mountains, like the stories of ghost bowlers, and it reminded us
of Florida's great daily summer thunderstorms.
But the louder sounds
of helicopters and airplanes interfered with our quiet enjoyment of
nature's show and dinner, and pretty soon we were standing on the deck
watching helicopters carry buckets of water directly over our heads.
Not once, but time after time after time. We started sniffing for
smoke, but detected none.
Television or radio were useless, as
neither provide any local news coverage here. Even the local web site
for residents had nothing posted when I first checked.
So I jumped in the car and went to the source of all news in our area -- the Camp Connell Store. It was closed and no one was about.
Next stop, a quarter mile away, the Lube Room Bar & Grill. It stays open
late. Sure enough, a couple of neighbors were standing on the edge of
the meadow back of the bar watching a helicopter attach its big water
bucket before taking off over the ridge. But no one knew what was
happening, or where.
I saw a fire crew in fighting gear in a truck heading up the road.
Next stop was the ranger station up the road in the other direction. A young
couple was sitting on the steps of their home watching the air traffic.
Nothing special, he said, probably just crews knocking down spot fires
from the lightning. He didn't even have his official radio turned on to
So I drove back to the house, reasonably assured things
were fine, and we started talking about what if the danger had been
real. What would we do? What would we take? Where would we go?
Pat made a list.
What's important enough to grab and run out the door? Family photos and
papers, checkbooks, keys and of course the computers. Oh yes, and my
good guitar and her hammered dulcimer.
Everything else can, and probably will, burn if a big forest fire comes our way.
That's just the way it is when you enjoy the pleasures of living in the forest.
Later in the evening a neighbor posted an update on the local website after talking to the local firefighters: lightning strikes triggered two small fires on the ridge above our house, a mile or so away, and crews were on the scene and would stay there till morning. Everything, we were told, was under control.
Irony Footnote:
Sierra Pacific Lumber,the Great Satan of tree cutters in the western U.S., may have made us a bit safer by clear-cutting swaths all around our community, whacking down thousands of trees within miles of our home. I doubt it actually helps,
but you can see what they have done to the once beautiful forest on
Google Earth by plugging in "Fly to 129 Campbell Lane, CampConnell California, 95223."

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