Tuesday, July 17, 2007
There's a first for everything. My trip to Reno was coming to a close yesterday morning, when Pono and I went for a nice hike up the hillside near Eva and Heinz's house. It was a lovely morning, and it felt great to get my blood pumping. We hiked to a high point from which we could look down on their house. I snapped a few photos, intending to share them with all of you blog readers. Little did I know how much these photos would end up meaning to me after the day was finished.
Eva and I did a bit of shopping after the hike. We came back to the house for lunch, and shortly after we finished, at about 2:30, their neighbor called to tell us that a small fire had started across the ravine from our houses. (Pono and I had hiked down and then up that very ravine just a few hours before.) We went over to her house to gawk at the fire, and we all were amazed at how quickly it climbed up the hillside. (The neighbor had already called the fire department.) It seemed like forever before we saw any signs of fire fighters, but I am sure they came as quickly as they could. The speed at which the fire progressed seemed inconceivable!
At some point, I decided to walk across the cul de sac to get my camera and check on Pono. Good thing I did. The smoke had become thick, and Pono was pretty freaked out by the smell. I shut all the windows in the house, grabbed my camera (after consoling the despairing dog) and went back to take some photos. It wasn't long before planes were arriving, zooming in and out of the smoke filled area, dumping the red flame retardant on the fire. Most of these photos were taken from the front step of Eva and Heinz's house. You can see how close it is. The sky was filled with smoke and ash. It was so thick, that even the sun became almost obliterated.
Pretty soon, we were seeing police and firetrucks. One policeman told Eva to get a bag packed and ready, just in case they needed to evacuate. By this time, the row of houses one street away had already been evacuated. I could definitely feel that surge of adrenelin that arrives at such moments. I didn't feel overly afraid, but isn't that what adrenelin does for a person? I have to admit, there is something about the whole experience that makes one feel very much alive. (is this why surfing big waves is so fun? Is this why people jump out of airplanes? hmmm...)
Well, you can guess what came next - we were evacuated. We loaded a few belongings and the dog into our cars, got the neighbor to follow us, and made a caravan out of there. Fortunately, Eva has a good friend who kindly gave us shelter across town. Otherwise, we would have been holed up in a high school nearby. Eva's friend and her husband even fed us dinner. It was a welcome sanctuary. We were not able to go back to the house until about 9 pm. When we returned, it was still VERY smoky and you could see the flames, which had now reached the top of the hill across the ravine. It would seem like the flames were ebbing, but then the wind would gust, and the flames would blaze stronger. It made me wonder if coming back to the house was such a good idea.
We kept all the windows shut last night, but I still woke up every few hours to the smell of smoke. My core instincts were telling me to GO!! Finally, at 5 am I gave up on the idea of sleep, and took Pono out to assess the damage. The air was so full of smoke, that it looked like fog. Pono sneezed about 10 times. We didn't go far, but I did brazenly (or stupidly) walk partway down the path toward the ravine. It turns out that the fire made it all the way to the bottom, and you could see the red strip of flame retardant that prevented it from making it to the houses, less than 1,000 ft.(an estimate) away. WHOA. My eyes were swollen, and we were happy to get back inside.
By the time I left, at about 8:30, the smoke had cleared significantly, and we were able to see the extent of the burn. The beautiful hillside I had hiked with Pono is now pretty much charred. There are still a few brave trees standing, but there were flames and smoke right behind them, and who knows if they will endure the inferno. Eva told me this evening that the fire was only about 10% contained, but that it was away from areas with houses, so they felt pretty good about staying in their house. I cautioned them about the smoke, and hopefully the firefighters will make good progress tonite.
All along the way back to Rancho Mirage, I was seeing smoke and charred areas, even right near the road. When I stopped to get a sandwich for lunch, there were 5 firefighters sitting there, waiting for burgers. I tried to talk to them, but they just looked at me through bloodshot eyes and black faces and gave curt replies. They were too tired to even talk to me.
I am safely back in the rental house, still reeling from the events of yesterday and today. Colorado seems light years away, with its afternoon thunderstorms, and the Arkansas river, running right through town. Is this culture shock? Or simply a moment of awakening, realizing that nature can still sneak up on us, even with our cell phones, televisions and satellites, catching us at our most vunerable? Is nature simply trying to get our attention?