Every year I write a blog about protecting homes and properties from wild land fires. The materials and knowledge used come from years of working with CDF (now CAL Fire) and studying the effects of vegetation related to fire science. I know about good defensible space, the benefits of using plants with low burn rates as well as types of construction acting as a chimney drawing flames to a building just to name a few subjects on the matter. All that knowledge may do a little to help in a wild land fire, but it certainly does not exempt anyone from the affects.
Almost five years ago, our family cabin was lost to a wild land fire in Lake County. Luckily, the family was not there at the time. The sustained loss was years of memories associated with memorabilia. Ironically, that lesson nearly repeated itself this week, except the threat was not of a family cabin, but of my ranch here in Lassen County.
Monday found me watering berry plants when a dear friend raced up the long driveway. His instruction told me that is not where water is needed. Not understanding, he pointed over his shoulder to the plumes of smoke and flames moving over the nearby ridge heading toward the side of my barn. Though still some distance away, we dragged hoses, turned irrigation water on around the house and watched. To our relief, the wind shifted and moved the flames to the south away from my property. More friends showed up and suggested I prepare for evacuation. Ahhh – What? All my years of training did not prepare me for this step. Numbed by the threat of destruction, little seemed of importance packing up the car and truck except for dog food, the dogs, some paper work and a few articles of clothes! My focus was the horses, donkeys, cats and chickens! They wouldn’t fit!
As it stands, the fire moved rapidly away from the ranch and I opted to stay knowing I was safe. I would be able to care for the critters dependent upon me. I also reasoned that staying would not impact or add to the task of the fearless fire fighters eradicating the blazes.
In retrospect, the question I ask myself is what did I learn. First, I learned there are not enough adjectives in our language that lift up and praise these fire fighters as well as those pilots dropping fire suppression material to save properties. I watched helicopters lowering water into crevices to douse flames. Jets flew over my property leaving a line of reddish-orange material that provided a defensible perimeter from potential embers or hot spots taking hold. Sheriffs checked in to see if anything was needed – one even asked if I needed help with my chores! They demonstrated country living at its best and the experience was most humbling!
I learned, that while trees are limbed up six feet and the donkeys and horses created a moonscape of their pasture areas surrounding my home, there was a potential threat of lumber piled up around the shop – a job soon to be addressed. The other job is for me to list those items most important to grab if ever facing evacuation again.
I must admit, there was one other part of fire science I did not acknowledge. Fire creates its own weather. I’ve read about it, but the experience left me frazzled! The gentle breeze on Tuesday evening turned into 40-50 mile an hour winds within seconds and reversed its direction back toward the ranch. The skies turned black with the exception of the intense glow where the fires still burned out of control. The weather also brought forth the roar of thunder and flashes of lightning. It only lasted for a half hour, but still a frightening experience. The lightning caused added fires plus the erratic winds pushed the flames over the firebreaks causing additional areas to contain.
The fire is known as the Gold Fire. It still rages upon the writing of this blog. It makes me very sad that one of my friends lost their beautiful home. Our fire chief and another fire fighter were hospitalized but thankfully back home now. Equipment was lost and tens of thousands of acres of our beautiful country is charred. I also know I am blessed by those friends that were here to help me, check in on me, prayed and offered moral support. I am forever indebted to them.
Once again, I ask that you take a walk around your property and make certain you’ve done all you can to keep your property safe from wild land fires. And most important – keep yourselves safe folks!