Friday, March 30, 2012

North Fork Fire

What's your natural disaster of choice?  Living up here in the mountains, I always thought of our natural disaster as the blizzard, which I am perfectly happy to deal with.  Being an introvert and a homebody, there's nothing I love better than an excuse to hole up for a day or a week at a time - even if the power is out!  (Which it shouldn't be, cause we have a generator.....)  I forgot about the other disaster we get around here from time to time: wildfire.

I went on a walk with a co-worker after lunch on Monday.  It was hella windy - like blow-your-face-off windy.  Suddenly she stopped and said, "Fire.  I smell smoke."  We looked up at the hills, and sure enough there was a little wisp of smoke up there to the west.  I pointed out that "They were supposed to do some controlled burns last week."  She looked at me like I was kinda dumb and said, "Not *today* [in the wind]."  And I was like, "Well, no, clearly not today."

Little did we know that a controlled burn from the previous week had indeed left a few embers behind.  And the hurricane force winds took those little embers and were quite happy to whip them up into a fiery frenzy.  When I left work at 4:30 to pick Andrew up, the sky was clear, but as we drove toward home, there was a massive smoke plume that had towered up into the sky and drifted east towards the city.  (I heard later that as soon as 5:15, just 45 minutes after I left, the plume was over work and dropping ashes on people walking to their cars.)  We drove closer and closer to it, and I got more and more nervous, until I got to our road.  But even after arriving safely home, the sight from our porch.was completely unsettling.

To make matters somewhat worse, the hurricane force winds had pulled up several panels of our metal roof, and they were flapping around sounding like a demolition derby.  It was because of the roof and not the fire that I called Travis home from work a slight bit on the early side, but in hindsight, I'm glad I did from all angles.

We kept watching the fire as the sun went down.  We could see the glow of the fire on the underside of the plume, and then, flames as it tried to crest the ridge about 5 miles away.  We discussed what we might take with us if we ended up needing to evacuate.  Just then, we saw a bit of crowning - the fire hitting the tops of trees so that they sort of explode - and we said, "Let's pack now!"

We spent the rest of the evening packing up our identification documents, photos and mementos, clothes, and emergency baby supplies and readied the computer equipment to go.  We had a few generous friends who offered us places to stay, even if we needed to call in the middle of the night.  Andrew seemed to feel our stress and stayed up late, and then had a very rough night, not only because of our tension, but also because the roof noise was totally preventing him from sleeping in his room and he was forced into the pack-and-play in a spare room downstairs.  Daddy tried to explain to him that other little boys in the neighborhood had to evacuate their homes; he was comparatively lucky to only need to evacuate his room! Also, we would find out three days later, he was cutting a tooth (his 8th: lower right lateral incisor) - when it rains, it pours!  (First molars are next, heaven help us.)

On Tuesday, the winds had died down, but we got the official reverse-911 call from the county sheriff that we were officially on standby for mandatory evacuation "on short notice."  Indeed, a new map was published, showing the current 4100 acre extent of the fire (assisted by infrared imaging - cool!) along with the evacuation lines, and our neighborhood was just to the north.  Travis and I tried to swing our work hours so that one of us could be home at all times, in case we needed to grab the stuff and go.  To put in perspective how fast this went down, at the time the fire was first reported, right around the time Estelle and I were walking, it was 1 acre.  By 7pm that night it was 3000 acres.  And by the next day, it was 4100 acres, it's fullest extent (so far).  Never underestimate the wind.

As of today, the fire is 70% contained, meaning they have basically cleared a swath around it.  However, the winds are supposed to kick back up this weekend, and if they find an ember and carry it across that line...  Well, let's just say that we have not unpacked yet.

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