Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Thoughts on Fire

I was spent from another long week. It was Sunday, and I just needed time on my hill, near my tree, to think and BE. I started hiking before 4:30 pm and when I stopped to take a picture, I saw what looked just a little bigger than a campfire off in the horizon, toward Schultz Pass. I could tell from the angle that it wasn't far from my parent's house. I called 911 to call it in and was told they would send crews over to check it out. Then, I texted my dad to see if he knew anything about it, since he tends to just know such things. He hadn't heard about it but recommended I call it in. There was no wind, so I was not excessively worried, though it had grown larger by the time I reached the top of my hill. Dad started listening to his scanner and told me they had engines on it and it was only about 3 acres. I was glad I had called it in. There was no wind predicted for the next day either. However, strong winds were predicted for Tuesday, so I was also relived it hadn't started one day later. 

On Monday, again on my way to my hill for an early morning hike, I did see some residual smoke, but it looked small. 

On Tuesday, Dad called in the morning and told me that the fire seemed to be ramping up and I remembered that the winds were supposed to pick up significantly in the morning hours. I asked him if he wanted the boys and I to come help him pick up pine needles and help fire prep his house "just in case" the unthinkable happened. He said it would probably be a good idea, and by the time I had rounded up the boys, Kaysee and Max, the winds had already picked up significantly. We helped Dad for about 1 hour, were put on SET evacuation status, saw one air tanker make a drop, and then decided to get Mom's horse off the property and to a friend's house. By the time I returned with the horse trailer 1/2 hour later, the Sheriff's officers (SO) already had the road blocked and I was only able to enter because I knew of another entrance which hadn't yet been blocked. 

At this point we were on GO evacuation status. Dad had already determined that he would stay to defend his home and we had gotten the kids back to our other house, out of any danger. We cantered down to our Octagon house and A-frame where Kyle and Lauren (who live in our Octagon) were already raking anything/everything away from the houses. We filled the horse trailer with pine needles, weeds, and any flammable debris. We also filled water troughs and watered all the trees until the moment we were forced to leave.  The SO was going door to door honking, using their sirens and yelling at people to leave. Right at that point, the wind turned and we were overwhelmed by smoke, heat, ash and even some sparks flying through the air. The roar of the fire was incredible. We could hear propane tanks exploding and there was dark black smoke each time the fire consumed another structure. We knew our neighbor's houses were being destroyed. We all loaded into the vehicles and left together. As we left, I knew Dad was in the thick of it all, trying to defend his home. It was terrifying.


Dad kept communicating with us, as often as he was able, but in one conversation, I could hear the tension in his voice. The background noise sounded like a freight train bearing down on him. He was able to save his house, but his videos and picture footage are horrifying. I think his long years of experience as a firefighter in the Forest Service helped him have the calm and ability to think clearly throughout the ordeal. He was an incredible help to so many in the community as he checked on people's houses throughout the night, putting out spot fires and was able to let people know the status of their house while they were locked our of the area. The fire was so fast blowing and so chaotic. It burned one house, missed the other, turned directions, crowned, dropped... it was unpredictable and savage, consuming 2000 acres in less than 1 hour. 

As we left our house, the wind was bearing directly down upon it and I knew our house was in the path of the fire wall. By evening, I just had to know... so I hiked another hill and was able to spot, in the distance, our house(s) and they appeared to be untouched. By some miracle, the wind had shifted as the fire wall descended and the fire missed Wind Horse Haven entirely. It, however, did not miss the homes of so many whom we have grown to know and love. I sat on top of that hill in the freakish wind and sobbed. 

It's strange to feel survivor's guilt so profoundly. There is the overwhelming gratitude for having been spared the pain of that loss, of getting to continue to love and cherish that place so dear, so treasured.... it is a gift that feels so absolutely unwarranted. I am haunted by the devastation I bear witness to. By the families escorted in by the SO to face the crumbled, smoldering rubble of the homes they loved; the homes that housed the lives they have built. 

We now have a tremendous responsibility to step up with everything we have to assist those who have lost everything. This is a time when we must come together as a community to find the ultimate strength to start over; no one should have to do it alone. 

I hope a thorough investigation is given to understanding what actually happened with this fire. It does not seem that any of this should have happened if the fire had been properly addressed on Sunday, when it first started. Two days with no wind. There was time to drown it long before the vicious winds of Tuesday assailed us all. Our forest is completely devastated, countless houses burned to their foundations, an entire community permanently, horribly and inextricably altered. This should not have happened. 

So, when I read in the news a personal assessment after reviewing some of the investigative data: "I have full confidence that Forest Service firefighters acted appropriately, professionally and aggressively to suppress the Tunnel Fire from the beginning..." I must admit I do not share that confidence. 

We will rebuild, but we will never forget what is lost in the ashes.

I have not been able to access the area, but from a distance it does appear that my tree, and possibly even part of my hill survived the fire. This, for me, is a bountiful blessing. It will be with much rejoicing that I will hug my tree again, if I am able to see it up close and know beyond doubt that it is unharmed. :-) It is but a tree, but for me it holds so much. 

Let us cherish what we have been given, for in the blink of an eye it can be taken from us. Let us SEE. 

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