Fire Season Arrives in My Neighborhood

Thank God the school bus was late.


I was standing on a busy corner, looking for the school bus to come down Black Mountain Road when I heard crackling and saw a plume of smoke rising out of a canyon about 100 yards away.   It took maybe 30 seconds for it to register, and when it did, I pulled out my phone and dialed 911 to report a brush fire. A small one at that point. I was connected to CalFIRE and told a crew was on its way. 


Ten minutes later, with no sign of any first responders and the fire now growing, a woman walking up the street saw the smoke and called 911 again. She got the same response and so we both stood and took photos until the bus finally arrived. By the time I got our boy inside and texted my husband to come home from the gym, flames were flying up the hillside. Sirens could be heard…in the distance. A police car was coming down the road and I flagged it down, pointed to the fire. A couple of minutes later, ambulances, police cruisers, and news crews were finally on the scene. A helicopter began to drop water. Hoses were hooked up to hydrants, dousing flames before they reached the road or crowds of bystanders. My little world was saved.


Those of us who’ve lived through raging wildfires suffer from PTSD, no matter how long ago the disaster. Back in 2003, I saw giant plumes of smoke and an orange rim on the horizon and called 911. I was told the fire was moving in a different direction. It took forever for crews and cops to reach our neighborhood and tell us to evacuate. It took years for me to keep my heartrate down whenever I smelled smoke.


Today was a close call. It was cool and relatively calm. No structures were destroyed, no people killed. But it is getting more difficult to live comfortably here, or anywhere in the western United States. While I watched firefighters at work, I got a weather alert for the town where we own a home in central Oregon: Prepare to evacuate due to lightning-ignited fires expected throughout the day and evening. 


I’m not sure it’s better elsewhere, where hurricanes, floods and tornadoes torture communities that maybe should have been built elsewhere. Natural disasters happen, always have, bringing about bad outcomes when they happen. Their frequency should not just raise alarms; they should elevate our collective conscience to do something besides bitch about inconveniences and who should pay for the damage, let alone allow someone to rebuild in the same flood- or fire-prone spot. 


These are complex issues, and I wish we elected more policymakers that understood them well and voted for what's best in the long run, not just the next election cycle. Climate change is real. It is the fundamental reason for the extremes in weather, the droughts and famine, the migrants and wars, the political upheaval and social justice protests. Shit, it even plays a role in pandemics. It is a global problem that can’t be solved with the world as it now is. So instead I’ll stay vigilant and do my small part to not waste resources. I’ll lose sleep worrying about what happens next. I’ll support our local firefighters, and everyone whose job is to keep us safe. I'll brace myself for the next fire drill.


Photo taken just as firefighters arrived.




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