On apocalyptic wildfires

This began as a Facebook post before it decided to make an appearance on my slumbering blog. I’ve been tracking the Creek Fire in Fresno/Madera Counties, California for one week now, as it’s seventy miles east of our home, up in the Sierra Madres between the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

Also… peaceful music to listen to while reading this, should you want some: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5O4IzgWpKw

It’s called Kalaajo, by Baaba Maal

The Friday morning, September 11, 2020 report from the Creek Fire is that it is now 6% contained, 175,893 acres have burned, 369 structures — homes, sheds and home-based businesses — are now ash while 14,074 more are at risk.

Winds died down enough two days ago for firefighters to start gaining a modicum of control, but it’s going to be volatile a while longer. Elsewhere the wind has been blowing fires up and contributing to the start of new ones. Never have so many fires in a region joined together to form “complexes” so large they may create fire tornados. It is said by frontline people that as fast as they get on top of a wildfire up pops a new one. There are numerous complexes in the state of California now. Oregon also has major fires — as do a number of other western states.

It’s just that the Creek Fire is close to home, that it started in a river drainage where there are several lakes countless thousands of people depend on for recreation, especially in this area’s blazing hot, dry. summers. Down here in the San Joaquin Valley we had nearly two weeks of temperatures going up towards, and beyond, 110º, followed by several days respite before a shorter replay last week. So covid or no covid there were a heck of a lot of people cooling off up at Shaver and Huntington Lakes and Mammoth Pool when the Creek got underway one week ago today. Including hundreds of hikers out on the slopes and somewhat out of touch.

And so hundreds of Labor Day weekenders found themselves surrounded by walls of fire and smoke, the only road out cut off. The California National Guard brought in a Chinook and a Blackhawk helicopter to get them and their pets out — when flying conditions made that possible. It was a deeply harrowing experience for these people who had to wait, and pray, and hope, and wait some more for that loud hammering of the ears that beat even the roar of the surrounding wind and fire, as the helicopters finally approached.

I heard this morning that the regional agency charged with deploying crews and equipment to western blazes has no more crews and no more equipment to send. When another fire comes to life they will be pulling away those currently working their tails off elsewhere. What a sobering decision to have to make. Our prayers go out to those who have lost so much, who are in harm’s way, who are fighting so valiantly.

This fire season the state lost the crews from prisons that it was heavily dependent upon in past seasons. Because of Covid hundreds of prisoners were sent out to wherever home is. Since many inmates trained specially for wildland fires and had experience their absence has been missed.

I also picked up that Canadian smoke eaters really did not want to come to fight USA fires because of the poorly contained Covid. But pack up and head south they did. God bless the Canucks.

In some ways, especially when paired with covid 19 and street violence in Portland and elsewhere, this feels apocalyptic. For our little family it is so far quiet, yet awareness of suffering and fear in many places around all at once makes an apocalypse feel existential.

There is no good air anywhere. My daughter takes Dante, age 13 1/2 months, out briefly when air quality goes down to moderately good (or bad, depending on your point of view). The boy is active and busy, loving nothing more than exploring new objects, places and experiences. He loves going outside. The small fellow used to enjoy grocery shopping, visits to friends and parks. He likes people.

Yet, along with so many other small children, our Dante is growing while mostly cooped up with his family of three adults and one corgi. His other grandmother makes regular Zoom or Facetime appearances, and he coos and laughs at the sight of her image. Conditions were such at the end of July that she was able to join us for a few days, for his birthday.

These photos are: Dante helping his mom water a garden recently — we don’t see these blue skies now; Dante with his parents and Grandma Sue on his first birthday; one of my drawings during a previous wildfire — a squirrel getting away from the heat and wildfire smoke while reclining on a large ice block that contains bits of fruit for later consumption — and a mask beside him; the first maypop (passion flower) to bloom this season on a vine given to us by neighbor; and Dante with sunflowers and his dog, having his birthday photo taken by Mom.

We’re so inured to isolating ourselves that the bad air doesn’t change life dramatically. Air purifiers run more inside, I don’t let Elf The Corgi out for long as she now has heart disease. We had to curtail her daily walks when she developed a limp. She is a wonderful companion.

Since her limp and the bad air came along we can’t take her for the walks where we could sometimes chat with neighbors along the way, all socially distanced.

I miss the world. I wonder how people whose lungs have been scarred by Covid are doing in this kind of air. I pray regularly that the great tests we are experiencing from multiple challenges will push us to become more involved with the welfare of one another and less excited about things we don’t fully agree upon.

We’re all in it together. Be strong everyone, be strong. People are counting on you. When you’re trapped in a burning house you don’t want to be asking the brave soul who beats his/her way in to pull you out what their political perspective is. Never forget these things.

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