Fire

Text copyright The Silver Coyote 2003
Photo copyright Tim Foley 1980, appears with permission of Wildland Fire.

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What used to be known as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF)
is now known as Cal Fire.




We were not designed to need this.

The flames reach to the limits of the sky,
Towering over our heads as we run.
Supporting the heavens in their repose of death,
Blocking out the very light of the sun.

The heat is staggering, driving us to our knees,
Our energy and determination dies with us.
There is no avenue of escape for us now, no recourse,
Soon we will end and be as the dust.

My mate and I have lived well and free,
We raised our pups to roam this range.
They are gone now, and so shall we be,
This is not the right way to die, so strange.

We huddle in air difficult to breathe,
The embers singeing our fur.
I cannot lead her to safety this time,
There's nothing I can do for her.

Walls of sound pain our ears,
Entire trees flash and disappear.
Our home has become as Hell itself,
And all we have left is gut-wrenching fear.

She turns to me a last time,
I can barely see the love in her eyes.
The smoke is so thick I can't smell her,
As she quietly whispers her good-byes.

The ground quivers beneath our paws,
This must be the end, there will be no more.
With my last breath I move to her, nose to nose,
And kiss her as the skies begin to roar.

As our lips meet, in that moment of everlasting now,
The miracle happens, ending our pain.
The wind suddenly changes direction, bears upon us,
And from above brings down the rain.

Not a mist, nor a sprinkle,
Not like the light showers of spring.
This is like the waterfall in the canyon.
Covering and drenching everything.

My mate and I lift our eyes to the sky,
Overhead the noise is an unearthly din.
The waterfall stops, we are safe for now,
Yet abject fear still grips from within.

What form of God is this, can it be the Creator?
What can make this conflagration of sound and wind and rain?
What has the ability to create its own weather system for us?
And can this ever happen again?

We run for all we're worth, paws after paws,
We scamper over hot ground, tinged in red.
Ahead lies unspoiled range, a new home beckons,
A place for a new life, a new den, a new bed.

The heavenly roars and rumbles continue,
To our left it's raining red, a bloody mist falling from the sky.
From the belly of the largest bird we've ever seen,
Loud and shiny and fast on the fly.

And then we are safe, running on cool ground,
Flames and smoke behind us, a new life ahead.
The Creator has blessed us, we shall not fail Him,
We have been given life anew when we should have been dead.

We stop long enough to kiss,
New promises spoken from ash-laden lungs.
We have survived this day in Hell,
And will raise a new brood of young.

My mate and I, we were not designed for this,
We don't need the fire, it is not a comfort for we.
Gratefully she and I run deeper into the mountains,
Once again safe, once again free.





24 October 2003, 2100 hours

The Grand Prix and Lytle fires have burned approximately 15,000 acres so far as I write this. The Lytle fire has been burning since Tuesday afternoon, and containment is not expected for at least a week. The "creature" my furs were saved by are any one of the many fire-bombing helicopters and aircraft that have been deployed to fight this fire, commanded and operated by men and women with nerves of steel who fly into the burning mouth of Hell repeatedly for a living. The risks are high, the rewards few, but the benefits are many. For all the men and women who are fighting the many wildfires in southern California tonight, this little poem is dedicated to each and every one of you. There are thousands who can't thank you, who you will never see, that owe you their very lives.




Post Script?
Monday, 27 October 2003, 0500 hours

It has been a dry, hot, and wild weekend with temperatures in the nineties, relative humidities in the teens, and the skies above southern California choked with ash and smoke. The media services this morning are reporting 13 lives lost, dozens injured, 850 homes completely destroyed with hundreds more damaged, over 300,000 acres burned. Full containment on any one of these fires is not expected for days. These are combined figures from more fires than I can count on my paws, fires with names like:
Cedar
Dulzura
Paradise
Grand Prix
Old Waterman
Simi Valley Incident
Verdale
Camp Pendleton
Piru
Mountain
Thousands of fire fighters from all across the western US are on and above the fire lines in southern California this morning, joined by citizen volunteers, local law enforcement, units of the National Guard, and members of the Armed Forces. It is a miracle that so few have perished in the face of such wide scale destruction. The Lord truly watches over us. God keep the men and women who risk their lives to save our homes.




Final Post Script
Sunday, 02 November 2003, 1900 hours

The final numbers sound very much like these: over 750,000 acres burned, more than 3,400 homes destroyed, which includes the destruction of the entire community of Cuyamaca, northeast of San Diego. Twenty people died in these fires, including firefighter Steve Rucker, who died in Wynola, trying to save the city of Julian from the Cedar Fire. Hundreds of people were injured. Over 13,000 men and women from fire companies across the southwest were on and above the fire lines during the battles. Some of those fire lines were as much as sixty miles long. At this moment containment numbers look like this:

Cedar 90%
Paradise 60%
Grand Prix 95%
Old Waterman 72%
Simi Valley Incident 100%
Piru 80%

This has been the worst wildfire season in my 43 years experience. Some media services are calling this the worst wildfire disaster the state of California has ever known. The price tag for fighting these fires, including the loss of homes and other structures, has been set in the billions of dollars.

The windshields of six of the fire bombers used in the air war against the fires were cracked by airborne debris, flung aloft by the vortex winds created by the fires themselves. One tanker pilot reported seeing a four by eight sheet of plywood sail past his windshield in the smoky skies 1,500 feet above the Old Fire. One helicopter was lost to mechanical failure during the air war, no air crews were injured or lost.

Thursday, 30 October, the weather turned for the better. Wednesday afternoon the temperature in my area of operation was 95 degrees with 15% humidity. Thursday morning it was raining, and the temperature never climbed out of the low seventies. It's been cloudy and cool ever since, the average temperatures dropped thirty degrees in two days, and rain fell on Hallowe'en night. More is forecast for tomorrow. The skies look clear now, and except for the thousands of newly homeless and the families of the dead and injured, life is slowly returning to normal.

I will remember this fire season for the rest of my life, even if nothing else happens. The Santa Ana wind season, however, is far from over. Our fire season has many more weeks of life left. So as we all heave sighs of releif, we also hold our breath and scan the horizons, ever vigilant, looking for the next rising header.

The arsonists that set some of these fires are still at large.




Footnotes:


21 November 2003.
This information was passed to me today through the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, State of California.

A Forester 1 for AEU [from the Amador - El Dorado Unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF)] said that the Cedar Fire in San Diego was burning at a rate of 6000 acres per hour. Homes with 500-1000 feet of defensible space, built with tile roofs and stucco siding were burnt to the ground. He saw homes treated with the gel or foam burnt to the ground with remnants of the gel still on the chimney. Fire behavior never before seen occurred on several of the fires last month. There are scientific studies underway to learn from the devastation.


February 2004
Final numbers in what MRT Magazine called "Hell On Earth".
MRT's January 2004 issue ran a feature article entitled Disaster Recovery, in which author Donny Jackson says of these fires "... Southern California bounces back from the worst wildfire in state history..."
This tabular information was provided to MRT from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Fire   Acres
Burned
  Structures
Lost
  Structures
Damaged
  Fatalities
Grand Prix Fire 54,605 3 7 0
Piru Fire 63,991 8 0 0
Simi Fire 108,204 300 11 0
Cedar Fire 273,246 300 11 14
Old (Waterman) Fire 91,281 1,003 7 6
Otay / Mine Fire 46,000 6 11 0
Paradise Fire 56,700 415 15 2
Totals 694,027 2,035 62 22

An interesting fact to consider - given that one square mile contains 640 acres, the area burned by these combined fires was over 1084 square miles. That's a box almost 33 miles on a side. Compare that to the surface area of Orange County, where I and almost three million other folks live, which is almost 300 square miles smaller (790 square miles). Bear in mind also that these numbers are only for the fires listed in the table, there were others.





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