Monday, September 2, 2013

Rim Fire Days

There was a puff of smoke in the sky to the south, clearly a fire, something our eyes are alert to in the foothills all summer. We watched a pyrocumulus cloud form on the horizon--beautiful but not benign. The cloud flattened and roiled. Helicopters, air tankers, and fire engines roared into the county. Thus commenced the Rim Fire Days.

At Masters swim practice, I peeked under my arm as I swam watching the helicopters and then a DC-10 flying low. It felt as if the helicopter was going to dip its bucket into Lane 5 for water to douse the fire.

My son texted at 10pm Wednesday saying a fire fighter friend warned they would soon be on advisory evacuation. He wanted to bring his family to my house. "Come on down!" I texted back.  It would be a day and half before his wife called and said, "We are packing up and heading to your place." I'd just spent a sweet hour in an interview with Marjorie and Karma Borgquist talking about family. As I drove away, Phillip Phillips came on the car radio singing "Just know your not alone/I'm gonna make this place your home." I drove quickly to make space for a family of six and their pets.

We moved the Harrelson family in, parked their bikes on the patio and Humphrey, the guinea pig, on the washing machine and made plans for dinner. Cindy and Taylor went shopping, and Cody and Kyle went for a ride on nearby dirt roads in the Samurai. After a dinner, everyone took to screens-- iPads, smart phones, and computers-- to see what was happening. We were consumed with watching the fire via the Internet--mostly Facebook and My Mother Lode, but also InciWeb and a few other sites. The Groveland Facebook page became our favorite site. We called out different reports and showed each other incredible images. Our wifi got so overloaded that the Internet on my computer stalled.

The next morning when I took my tea to the patio, the smoke was as thick as a January fog. I soon headed inside where breathing was easier. The next few days were a whirl of games, guitar music, fire monitoring, food prep, and watching our animals make friends with the Harrelson animals. The days were hot and smokey and filled with family fun. When they decided to head home Sunday afternoon, the quiet in our house was enormous. We missed them.

The next day, the earache I'd been nursing all weekend flared; I tried to catch up on freelance work but kept getting drawn back to fire monitoring on Facebook. Then I got an email from my sister Ginger reporting an offer had been made on the San Francisco house where we grew up.  The world smelled like smoke; the sky turned an eerie crimson and gold at sunset. I was unsettled!

Cindy made cookies, and we took them to an elementary school where firemen were bivouacked. We walked out Plainview Road to the point and watched smoke curling in big plumes from Paper Cabin Ridge. Behind us, the sun was a giant orange globe.

For a seven days, the fire was all we could think about. It wasn't over, but there was a sense that things were pointed in the right direction, that we could resume whatever it was that had stopped or slowed or slipped.  Tomorrow would be different. But first we stood still on that hill until the sky was dark and all we could see was a deep red glow in the distance.

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