08 February 2009

Remembering The Rico Wildfire of 2006

As the bushfires have devastated many communities in southeastern Australia, my heart goes out to my Aussie posse blog friends. 
Australia is experiencing a summer very similar to what California had last year with the heat and the wildfires, some that were set by arsons. It makes me wonder just what goes through an arson's mind as he or she starts a fire. Is it a power trip? Could it be sexual? I remember a story of a fire chief who started a fire because he needed the work. And there is always the stories about the lost hiker in the wilderness that sets a signal fire that goes out-of-control.
When I lived out at the ranch, the Rico wildfire of July 2006 burned about 25 square miles. It was started, like about 50% of wildfires, by a lightening strike and burned all night. The next morning it looked like up valley was filled with very dense fog, but no, it was smoke. All day long horse trailers came down the road and fire crews went up the road. Rumors claimed the fire was contained. The official fire website said not even close. It hadn't jump the summit. Still a comfortable ways away. At dusk, they closed the road in front of my house.
That's when that first "oh shit" feeling stepped in. Wild fire is wild. Humidity, wind speed, luck of the draw, all come home to roost. Of all natural disasters, fire ranks up there for me. Earthquakes can be scary fun to just plain scary, but they are always on my mind. Whenever I go into a building, I design an escape plan. This works for me. Landslides and flooding are avoidable. I would never live in an area that has landslides, mudslides, or near the flood plain, thanks to my college education and a couple of really wet years in the early 80s. But fire, fire makes my knees shake.
So when my neighbor a few miles up the road told me the fire has jumped the road at the summit, I screamed (internally) Oh My God! I went out and looked up the road and saw flames. First rule of a wildfire, am told, if you can see flames, it's time to leave. I didn't leave. I started watering. Later that night, the sheriffs woke me with an evacuation notice. They said get your animals out now. They said by dawn, if the wind picks up, the fire could be here in minutes. So, because I was the only one living at the ranch (besides a couple hundred of cows), I called the owner and the foreman with the news. 
Heavy equipment on trailers were now going around the "road closed" sign and up the road. Ranchers up valley were going to stay and fight it by clearing bush and trees around their homes. This isn't recommended. In fact, there is a reason the sheriffs came to my door. Not just to tell me about the evacuation plan, but to see how willing I would be to go along with it. People who live in the county all their lives are somewhat independent, to say the least, and the last thing the sheriffs want to contend with is some old biddy clinging to her front porch screaming "I won't leave!" while trees around the house explode into flames. 
And btw trees explode into flames during a wildfire. Imagine lighting a match. How it curls up into that tear shape flame. Now imagine a Digger Pine 200 feet tall full of sap lighting all at once. It is probably one of the biggest jaw dropping things you can ever witness. I sure am going on about this, but for ten years I lived on top of a dead grassy hill around some old Blue Oaks and worried like crazy about fire. The hill was too steep to mow, and the property was known as Fort Windy. The house was 2 story with one entrance/exit on the second floor with a dry old wooden staircase and deck on front. If a fire climbed that hill, we'd be toast. And there was always some idiot down in the valley burning his trash or BBQing on the hottest day in the summer. 
So yeah, fire concerns me, and I like to think that where I live now is one of the safest. But I know that whole communities can be burnt to the ground anytime anywhere.

1 comment:

  1. Wild fires scare the pants off me. I'd like to think I live in a safe area, but I assume no where is safe from them if one starts....I suppose in the summer, one spark could get the fields around here burning and then my neighborhood.


Thanks for sharing!