Text copyright © The Silver Coyote
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.
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:
Simi Valley Incident
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:
Grand Prix 95%
Old Waterman 72%
Simi Valley Incident 100%
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.
21 November 2003.
This information was passed to me today through the Governor's Office of Emergency
, 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.
Final numbers in what MRT
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
|Grand Prix Fire
|Old (Waterman) Fire
|Otay / Mine Fire
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.