Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Fire

Helicopter dropping a load onto the Salt Creek Fire, last Thursday.

I'm trying to remember the last time we had a whole summer go by here in the Northstate without a big wildfire - or four or five of them. It pretty much goes with the territory, doesn't it? No matter how much rain we get in the winter or spring (and we got a lot this year), summer brings temperatures that rarely fall below the century mark, and along with it comes a dry spell that seems to go on forever.
And then lightning hits.
Or someone mows the lawn and hits a rock.
Or carelessly tosses a cigarette out the window.
Or sets off fireworks in a field.
Or drags a chain while towing a boat to the lake or an RV to the campground.
Or someone sets a fire on purpose.
It happens every summer. I feel like I'm always waiting for it, just hoping that when it happens, wherever it happens, that nobody loses their home, their animals or their lives. Because that happens.

Last Wednesday I worked out of Ashland for the day. Just as I was putting on my seatbelt, getting ready to head back over the Siskiyou Pass towards home, I received a text from my friend Judy asking if I knew what the plume of smoke north of Redding was about. When I reached the fruit checkpoint on the other side of the border, after the attendant asked me if I had any fresh produce, he asked me how far south I was heading. Then he told me I wouldn't be getting there, because moments earlier I-5 was closed down at Salt Creek due to a wildfire along the freeway. Ah, that plume of smoke.

By the time I reached the city of Mount Shasta, the closure had been moved there, and traffic was being detoured to Highway 89. That's when I decided to pay a long overdue visit to The Goat. They let me tie Casper up to the fence, and I feasted upon a burger before they ran out of fries but after they ran out of blue cheese dressing, since the food delivery truck was stuck on the south end of the freeway closure. Stranded motorists started trickling in. A couple who had been headed out Highway 89 to camp informed me that I probably wouldn't be able to make it my friend's ranch in McCloud, as they'd been turned around 3 miles outside Mt Shasta due to bumper to bumper stalled traffic. I shared my table with a group of 10 hikers from Redding who began plotting out a way to get back home that involved rarely traveled backroads and a drive over to Trinity Center. Eventually I got on the freeway and headed back to Ashland, where I arrived just as the freeway was opened again for southbound traffic. Of course.

I was able to make it back home the next day, but it was very eery driving through the scorched terrain, still smoking along both sides of the freeway. A helicopter with a giant bucket flew overhead after dropping its load over the plume of smoke which loomed in the sky, moving slowly eastward. The Salt Creek Fire had doubled in size from the day before and then doubled again before the next day was through, 930 acres lost before the fire was contained by the brave firefighters and pilots who worked hard to stop its progress and saving hundreds of homes. Not a single home was lost, not a single life. We are so fortunate. Because a few came close.

And suddenly, it seems like we're surrounded by fire. There's the Parks Creek Complex fire that's burning to the north of us in Siskiyou County, west of Weed, taking 17 acres so far. The Dillon Fire, which is actually about 20 fires still under investigation but believed to be human caused, has burned 318 acres northwest of us along Hwy 96 near Happy Camp. Lightning is believed to be the culprit behind another handful of fires burning in the Happy Camp Ranger District, the largest of which, The Bill Fire, has burned about 60 acres. To the east, a 10 mile stretch of road within Lassen Park has been closed due to the Reading Fire, which has burned almost four thousand acres so far. To the southeast, the Chips Fire in Plumas has devoured more than 19 thousand acres. And then further to the east, the Lost Fire in Nevada is now getting a helping hand from California firefighters on the whopping 58 thousand acre blaze.

Back to those brave firefighters and pilots. Let's celebrate their efforts, whether they're inmates from the nearby Sugar Pine Camp, or working for CalFire or the U.S. Forest Service, or just regular folk standing on the roof with a garden hose. Each and every one of the more than 1500 people who are out there right now battling the fires on all sides of us deserves our gratitude and respect, prayers and positive thoughts. It's dangerous work. Remember just 3 short years ago, when a helicopter went down in the Shasta-Trinity forest, killing Redding Cal-Fire employee Jim Ramage and 8 other people who were battling the Iron Complex fire? One of the 8 was David Steele, who grew up in my hometown of Ashland, Oregon. I graduated from high school with his mother, his father was a year behind us at Ashland High, and David followed in their footsteps, graduating from the same school the year before he died. He was 19 years old. Every time a wildfire flares up in the region, I think about David, his fellow firefighters, and all of the family members who lost a loved one that hot day in 2008.

David Steele

Today's playlist weaves together a number of memorable and worthy songs about fire, but it's not designed to make light of the fires currently burning in the area. Instead, I hope it keeps fire season at the forefront of your consciousness; keeps you thinking about what you can do to minimize the chance of another fire being sparked.  I want you to think about David Steele and his whole crew, and his mother and father, his two sisters and his brother, every time you go out into the wilderness and build a campfire. Or the next time you chain up a trailer to your truck. Or the next time you light up a cigarette, or mow the lawn, or set off fireworks. Would you do that? If you were one of those evacuated in one of the recent fires, making room for brave people to put their lives on the line to defend your property, you might be interested in making a donation to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.



  1. Fire - Etta James
  2. Fire - Ohio Players
  3. Fire - Pointer Sisters
  4. Fire - Jimi Hendrix
  5. Fire - Arthur Brown
  6. Sex On Fire - Kings of Leon
  7. I'm On Fire - Bruce Springsteen
  8. Forest Fire - Josh Wilson
  9. Serpentine Fire - Earth Wind & Fire
  10. We Didn't Start The Fire - Billy Joel
  11. Burning Down The House - Talking Heads
  12. Skies On Fire - AC/DC
  13. Fire - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  14. Bob Marley - Burn One Down
  15. Forest Fire - The Dream Academy
  16. Water & Fire - Deep Forest
  17. Forest of Fire - Jon Anderson
  18. The First Fire - If These Trees Could Talk
  19. Fire Bomb - Rihanna
  20. This Fire - Franz Ferdinand
  21. World On Fire - Sarah McLachlan
  22. Man On Fire - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
  23. Burn It Down - Los Lobos






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