Friday, July 11, 2008

fire days

It is Friday, July something. Something with a 1. Maybe it's the 10th or maybe it's the 11th. I do know it's Friday. On Tuesday we woke up in the morning to an incredibly strange, orangy-gray sky. At 7:30 in the morning it was as dark as before dawn. A little later, the sun was so muted we could look straight at it. As the day progressed, the sky did not. It got a bit lighter, but mostly it just stayed eerily orangeish, and midmorning we realized small bits of ash and embers were raining down on us.
We realized the lightning fires that had been burning for two weeks had kicked up, particularly the one in the West Branch Feather River canyon, which was due east of us.

We spent a couple of hours thinking and mumbling and watching the sky and the news. By 2:00 pm we were putting into our cars the items we had packed over a week earlier: the canvas bags filled with important papers, pictures, albums, assorted pieces of jewelry (like we owned the crown jewels or something), sketch books and journals (me), oil paintings of long-gone pets and lighthouses (Steve), and an odd assortment of small items like little cat figurines (me) and earplugs and swim goggles (Steve). We did this in silence, each of us methodically marching back and forth to our respective cars. Finally the moment came when it was time to pack up the cats (all five of them) into their carriers, throw cat food and a litter box into the car, and take off. With a last scan of the front yard, we drove away.

Friends had set out a couple hours before us, with their four cats, headed for a Motel 6 in Willows, about an hour and a half away, so we followed them there. As we drove into the motel parking lot, I got a call on my cell from my friend Sharon, who had evacuated with her husband and four cats. Within two hours, they were unloading cat carriers into the motel room next to ours. This picture of our cars prompts me to want to sing:

"One of these cars is not like the others.
One of these cars doesn't belong.
Can you guess which car is not like the others,
before I finish my song?"

Thanks to free wireless Internet, we contacted friends and neighbors who had scattered to various places. We had about a day of worry when one close friend, a former neighbor who lived right on the burning canyon and who had been manditorily evacuated (cool word, manditorily) seemed to have disappeared into the ether, but we decided to go with the "no news is good news" train of thought. Finally, we received word from his wife that he was safe, and that the cat was in the shelter run by the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (donations gladly accepted).

The next morning I received some emailed pictures from another former next door neighbor on the canyon, who had snuck with her husband back into their home the night before and taken pictures from their deck, showing the fire burning across the canyon. Their house, and the one we used to live in as well as a whole line of them, sit at the top edge of this canyon, some on stilts. Down below is the West Branch of the Feather River, a rather narrow little thing, certainly not enough of anything to stop a fire.

Firefighters (bless them all) had been and were still battling to keep the fire from jumping the (very narrow) river and racing back up the other side, straight to these houses. 

Yesterday, I guess that was Thursday, we had this view from our motel window:

Conversations with some of the firefighters who descended onto the motel revealed that they were "having a hard time getting the fires under control." Fortunately, it has still been prevented from crossing the river into the town of Paradise. The people in Concow, south of us, have not been as lucky; they've lost about fifty homes and the fire is still burning.

And burning.

Hopefully, we will be able to go home soon. Maybe tomorrow.

No comments: