Saturday, April 26

Who's setting these fires?

KB called this afternoon and asked "Where are you in these fires?". "What fires?" I said. I walked to the front yard and saw a lot of smoke and, for the first time, noticed the helicopters overhead. I live in California so it's not unusual to hear helicopters overhead, I guess my mind just blocked them out. More than anything I was immediately annoyed because a couple of weekends ago I saw the same sight but behind my former junior high school. Not only had the school been on fire but the hillside above it was on fire. It was not a windy day and they seemed to have been deliberately set. I figured some idiotic kid, angry with school, had been setting fires. Both fires had been quickly extinguished and I hadn't thought of them since. But when a hillside, no more than a mile away, goes up in flames a couple of weeks later I can't help but be suspicious. It's too early in the season for wildfires to just spark out of nowhere. It was certainly a warm day but nowhere near as hot as predicted. Also, the hills are still green from the extra rain we had earlier in the year. Again, it's not a windy day. There was a bit of a breeze but it was cooling by the time the fire must have started. One of the good things about living in Southern Californian foothills is knowing that you've got some of the best equipped and most experienced firefighters in the country. These guys seriously kick butt. When I looked up and saw the ridge above my home on fire this afternoon it didn't really concern me. I was mostly mad at the idiot I figured must have started it. That was about 4:00 this afternoon.

My friend Sarah called around 8:00 pm and asked how we were doing. According to our local news the fire would be contained by 5:00 so I hadn't thought much more about it. I'd had a nice day of Coffee Bean, pedicures and lunch with Mom so I was in for the day within the confines of our air conditioned home. Again, I wasn't terribly concerned. We've lived through many wildfires and I've learned to not panic. The closest call/fire was several years ago and burned for a few days. That one woke us all up in the middle of the night because the house was suddenly lit up in a vivid orange as the fire crested the mountain ridge above our house. That light woke me through my shuttered windows. I'd never thought about the light of a fire before that night. I very familiar with the ash and the scent from wildfires but I'd never considered how dang bright they could be at night. While many folks are familiar with the sight of snow flakes in their headlights, folks in these parts are more familiar with the sight of ash in their headlights. I saw that familiar sight again tonight.

I finally became curious about the fire after Sarah's call. Mom and I hopped in my car and drove a few blocks away to check it out. It was really close! The whole hillside is still lit up but that isn't the disturbing part. The creepiest part of this evening is not the fire but the looky-loos. There is still way too much traffic in the neighborhood. I saw young fathers helping their children out of trucks (of course they were trucks!) to get a better look. There were police officers out for crowd control. Unbelievable!! Now, some may consider Mom and I to be looky-loos but I don't think it counts when you're trying to assess whether or not you need to evacuate your own home. I can still hear lots of those losers driving, way above the speed limit, past the house. I'm not sure what exactly they are here for. Are they waiting to see a home burn to the ground? Many of them have cameras. It's really weird and creepy. I felt like pulling over to say "This is my neighborhood, do you mind?!"

My favorite person of the night was the angry octogenarian. We noticed her because she was the only one in traffic honking her horn at the cop. She leaned on the horn and yelled in a disgusted tone "How am I supposed to get home?!" I can't wait to be that old and livid. She just didn't give a damn about the crowds or the fire, she just wanted everyone to get the hell out of her way.

Mom has had some sort of strange laryngitis lately. If stopped by the cops our plan was to have mom say, in her raspy voice, "I need to get home to my respirator." Luckily the cop who stopped us was too freaked out to question us. He just said they weren't letting people through. I said "Ok, we'll just go around." He nodded and seemed happy to have us turn around. We didn't have to use Mom's fake respirator excuse.

When we got home Dad was on the phone about some bird. Mom didn't let the phone to his ear stop her. She rolled in and started describing the whole scene. I then heard her laughing and walking away. Apparently Dad was pointing to the phone as if to say "I'm on the phone, just a minute." but Mom kept on talking. Eventually he casually said into the receiver "Oh, there's a wildfire a few blocks away." To say Dad is nonchalant about our local fires is an understatement. Once a police officer told us to leave because of a mandatory evacuation. Dad talked to neighbors and learned that a different officer told them we were under a voluntary evacuation. We didn't leave. That was the night the house turned bright orange. I can tell you with some authority what hell must look like. Is it the inside of your house lit in bright orange firelight? No, it's your Dad arguing with the young officer at the door and hearing him dismissively say "I've been hiking these hills for 50 years. That fire is two ridges away! We're not going anywhere." I always get mad at those people who don't leave their houses but now I wonder if they've been told one too many times to leave by a naive and ultimately incorrect cop to evacuate. I'd never want a firefighter to have to rescue me because I was too stubborn to leave my home after being warned it might burn to the ground. However, I also don't like the idea of having only 5 minutes to evacuate my home only to learn later that nobody else in the neighborhood was told to leave.

I just looked up the fire online and there is apparently a mandatory evacuation nearby. I have my windows open and can't really smell the fire from inside the house. I like to think that means it's blowing away from us. I can't see it either. I just hope everyone makes it through the night all right. Maybe it's time for some Tylenol PM so I can sleep...

1 comment:

Trooperdog said...

It's Sunday afternoon. My mom just called and said, "The hillside by our old house is on fire!" She told me all about the news they saw online. I immediately thought of you and had to see if you had blogged about it! I hear it is moving more towards Sierra Madre now?