Monday, August 27, 2007

Fire on the mountain

Camp Connell, CA - The last thing we wanted to see as we drove homeward up the mountain after out grandson's soccer game were the plumes of smoke rising from the ridge just above us.

This has been an unusually dry year, and fire is never far from our minds.
By the time two fire crews roared past us heading up the winding state highway, the concerns grew.

Our home sits on the edge of thousands of acres of forest, mostly private, some public, and we have worked hard this year at creating and maintaining a "defensible zone" around the wood-framed structure. But no zone can protect a home if a big fire gets going and winds blow it up the mountain canyons and over the ridges.

Traffic started to slow down, then stopped just as we approached a Forest Service office along the road. The Highway Patrol had red cones out, and was turning everyone back down the hill. All we could learn was that four separate fires were burning alongside the highway, and crews were flooding into the area in trucks along with helicopters and spotter planes and heavy equipment crews and water tankers.
We did what sensible people do in such times, with a forest fire burning hotly and cutting us off from out home: we went out for lunch.
Information was very hard to get while we ate and shared our concerns with other refugees. There are no television or radio stations in the area, and rumors tend to carry bits and pieces of news that aren't always reliable. We did learn it would be hours before we could get home, and the status of the fire was unknown.
We found the solution at the nearby home of our daughter and family: the local community internet site was "broadcasting live" from their den studio, on the other side of the fire line, including video and still photos.
The young couple that manage the site had been on their way to WalMart, 50 miles downhill, and happened upon the fire line and went right into action.
Their "studio" is primitive and their camera and reporting techniques unpolished, but God bless 'em, they were the only link between us and a potentially disastrous situation. And they did a great job of passing along everything they could learn, as fast as possible.
There were four separate fires, all apparently started by some idiot throwing firecrackers into the dry brush along the road. The area fire departments immediately threw men and equipment into a coordinated attack to keep the fire controlled, and despite the high temperatures and dry brush and parched trees, were able to stop the fires before they spread beyond ten acres.
The road reopened at 7 p.m., and we drove home through the charred areas while several fire crews were still cleaning up the area, and starting load into the trucks.
Our home, eight miles up the road from the site of the fires, was serene and cool when we arrived. No one has been arrested, and life goes on.
But my perspective on access to news has shifted. I'll still read the Sacramento Bee and the New York Times, and watch a little television news now and then, but from now on my primary link to my world will be through an unpolished web site that tells us about local festivals, free music events, the times for the farmers' market, highway accidents and forest fires that just might burn my house down.

You can check it out at
(The photo is from their web site)

Tell them I said thanks.

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