Monday, September 19, 2011

Fire on the mountain....

..lightning in the air! The *tune starts playing through my head whenever those thunder storms start up every fire season and we get a strike that starts something to blazing (*outlaw country --Marshall Tucker -- from yer mama n papa's younger days ;)

Though the story line of the song really has nothing to do with this journal entry I’ve always just like the cadence and flow of the title and  music… well that, plus those 2 lines are so appropriate to 1) -being a young woman actually working on the fire lines (another story for another day) 2) -living in the Golden State where forest & brush fires are a normal part of the year’s activities; and 3) -as Papa aptly stated "..back to the land of volcanoes and forest fires", while we stood gazing south into the distant forest-fire-induced hazy view from the Hwy 97 Mountain Identifier overlook near the Oregon/California border on our return trip to the U.S. this summer.

In the 24 hrs between last Sunday and Monday California had 10,966 strikes with almost 2 dozen of them starting fires in and around the eastern part of our county. The lightning was so close that the thunder booms shook the house and rattled the windows.. it was all very exciting! Well, for us, at least. Jenny-the-dog-face girl didn’t like it one bit. She quivered and quaked through the whole thing, crashing through the back door at one point and racing into the living room to cower at our feet, which is unusual, as you know; both the wanting to be in the house (she loathes it) and her ‘storm-terror’. Interestingly enough, we learned the next day that as dogs age they can become fearful of the crash and boom of thunder. 70 dog years.. yep. She qualifies.

So, back to the story… that evening one of these big strikes hit the hillside across the valley from us and started a blaze. Fortunately, this time, it didn’t get out of control like that one back in ‘08 when they were evacuating our area. Still, things got interesting and we had front row seats for this year’s event.

Remember when you kids were little and the thunderstorms brought torrential downpours and sometimes hail along with the lightning ..but in all these more recent years we just get the dry lightning storms? This one happened to bring bucket-loads of rain; however it must not have been widespread, since this fire, which seemed to be doused by the rain soon after the strike, laid low for 2 days and then came back to life Wednesday afternoon when the wind kicked up.

*Click On Pics to Enlarge*

For over 4 hours Papa and I watched a helicopter make trip after trip to the creek and pond and fly repeatedly to the burn. At one point Papa jumped on his bicycle and rode down to the bridge to see it 'up close and personal' as it flew in. About an hour after the initial attack began we heard the distinct deep, low rumble of the air tanker and got to see some great coordination going on between both birds as they bombarded the fire with the red retardant and more water. These pilots are so darn good. It’s always a complete thrill to see them in action. After several passes by the fixed-wing bomber the helicopter soldiered on alone..

Rising from the creek w/a full bucket of water (and wild trout?!?)
Dropping it on the fire - direct hit!

Enter the reinforcement! 
Beautiful drop (no longer using borate -which was toxic & created sterile soil- new retardants are less toxic & fertilizer enhanced to encourage plant regrowth after the fire)
Drat, a miss! (plume  of water to the left of the diminishing smoke)

Working the ponds
By 6 o’clock the sky was empty of aircraft and we figured they had to get back to the Chester airfield and were done for the night. But then, just before dusk, we heard the whump whump whump of the helicopter coming back. Instead of his water bucket there was a long line below the belly carrying what looked like 3 big ol’ balloons. Papa says, “They’re full of equipment! They must be taking supplies up to a hand crew.” We grab the binoculars, and sure enough, we’re able to spot a crew way up in the lava beds and watch as they get the goods from the helicopter. Man! What a hike they must have had over the mountain. This side of the hill has no roads and is completely covered in lava fields and lava ridges. We are surprised (and delighted!) to see them appear on the scene. I’m still curious to know what they must have gone through to get there and how they figured out HOW to get there! I’m gonna have to find someone in-the-know and find out.

Anyway, as the sky completely darkens, and just prior to moonrise, we see a ring of glowing yellow lights set up around the area. There isn’t much smoke at the site anymore but naturally there are ‘hot spots’ all over the burned area and the crew will most likely be either watching for flare-ups or doing mop up, or both, through the night. Feels nice to be going to a comfortable bed here at the house knowing a group of hard-working brave souls are keeping an eye on things up there.

The next morning we watch as another helicopter flies over the house with another load of water and supplies for the firefighters on the mountain. The smoke is non-existent now and any danger to the valley is gone. Tremendous attack job on this blaze. Wish I could watch a long extensive documentary on the whole 3 day adventure… as it was, the excitement provided literally hours of intense interest and lots of distraction for Papa and I while we were nursing our miserable colds…

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