Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Yesterday we got our fire-season wake-up call when word came over the scuttlebutt network that there was a small fire a couple of miles away. A photo showed heavy smoke close to our neighborhood landmark, the Foresthill Bridge—said to be the tallest bridge in California. Just one or two acres, so we weren’t shaking in our boots right away. This was around one in the afternoon.
A couple of hours later, the thing had expanded to 150 to 200 acres and had crossed a road. Spot fires were igniting down into the American River canyon. The smoke became a huge grungy-looking cloud, though fortunately the wind wasn’t coming our way. Giant tanker planes circle over our house on their way in to dump the red fire retardant that some people might compare to the color of blood. By three-thirty we had set aside some things to take with us if we had to evacuate, including my favorite guitar, important papers, laptops with backup drives, some favored tchotchkes, and a cat. My wife continued to work on her bank reconciliations, while I watered plants and kept one eye on the ominous sky. It was hard not to project ahead a few hours and wonder where we’d find ourselves.
At seven or so, we drove a couple of minutes to a spot where we could see the fire zone, and I took the above pic. An Apocalypse Now squad of choppers with water loads flew overhead toward the flames. Other people on site spoke of getting their horse trailers ready to roll, setting up ladders to soak their roofs, and listening to police band radios. There was nothing any of us could do except prepare to go when the call came.
We had the phone on the bedside table for the emergency notice, and around eleven something came in. My heart had a quick cramp, but it was just a junk text saying that I, Pierre, had won the contest.
You can imagine how fitful our sleep was. The cat was moving around all night, often settling herself right on top of us. The smell of smoke never wafted in, but what dreams I had were seasoned with a feeling of urgency. The first thing we did in the morning was check the fire update, and it said that fire activity was now minimal. The worst was over. The Bridge Fire had maxed out at about 300 acres, which, by California standards is small. The recent Caldor fire in the news that almost took out South Lake Tahoe gobbled up 200,000 acres in a flash.
Life in California in the era of climate change. It’s a stress test.
Throughout the day, Sue and I took stock often of the things we love about this place. Our home, the landscape, the hiking trails, the river, the lifestyle itself. We knew we could lose it all in a matter of hours, but this morning, as we got a glimpse of the ashen burn area across the canyon, we understood we’d be staying until the very end.