May 01, 2011

Two Crazy Days, Part 2: The E-Word

The Sand Gulch Fire about 1 p.m. Friday, April 29, shortly before it "blew up." The smoke plume is already horizontal due to a strong southwest wind.
Part 1: "It's Blowing Up."

The telephone call was from the sheriff's office. They could not locate our fire chief, so could I come to a meeting with the sheriff at an intersection on the state highway about a mile from the house.

"Why  me?" I thought. I am still relatively new, just one of the worker bees. I reminded the caller that if our chief was not answering his cell phone, they should try the radio. He is, after all, a county Road &  Bridge employee. (Both cell and radio reception can be spotty in the mountains, but the radio is more reliable.)

And then I re-donned my wildland-fire clothes and drove to the meeting.

The little intersection was getting that command-post look: two sheriff's cars, a couple of Forest Service trucks, a Bureau of Land Management law-enforcement ranger's SUV—people standing around with hand-held radios and clipboards.

The fancy new brush truck from Bigger Department Down the Road pulled up, and the driver conferred briefly with the man whom I took to be the FS incident commander. Where were our people? I walked to the sheriff's car and waited for him to finish his radio call.

The way it works, the sheriff's office, 25 miles away, controls the emergency siren in our community. So I urged him to activate it. This was not "our" fire, it was clearly the feds' fire, but our firefighters needed notification.

The editor of our weekly newspaper and his teenaged son drove up, and they started chatting and snapping photos. People were starting to use the E-word: evacuation.

We Really Need a Checklist, We Later Thought

Back home, M. was thinking evacuation too. Ash was falling from the sky, but no embers, luckily.

Our packing was haphazard. We got the computers, checkbooks, and our passports. (Were we fleeing to Canada?) I threw in the other clothes that I had worn that day and some clean underwear and socks. M. grabbed some still-unworn strappy, sequined sandals that she had bought largely in celebration of a decision by the county commissioners down in Puebl0 (that will be another blogging topic).

The dogs and their food. Some crackers and peanut butter. One favorite revolver. Some bottled water. I realized later that not only had I left my good camera outfit behind, but I hadn't brought anything to read!

 We got extra sleeping bags to supplement the bedding in the pop-up camping trailer.

We were a lot less organized than the last time we evacuated, but we had several hours to load up that time—and still did not know just how to do it. (Do you pack for just a few days or for the rest of your life?)

I pulled her Jeep Wrangler out of the garage and hooked the Jeep Liberty to the trailer. Its tires were low after sitting all winter. Too bad. This would be a short trip—just 3.5 miles to the fire station.

And then the house:
  • Blinds drawn, windows closed, interior doors closed. Front door unlocked.
  • Ladder propped against the roof.
  • Porch lights on.
  • Propane tank turned off.
  • Hose and sprinkler positioned on the side closest to the trees, ready for use.
  • Final quick blessing.
And then the power went out, which meant no pressure pump—no water. So it goes.

I met the sheriff again where our driveway comes out on the county road. His deputies and some Forest Service people were there, sizing up the situation, getting ready to go door-to-door.

By the time I reached the state highway, there were two of my department's three pieces of apparatus—our brush truck and the water tender. We were in the show.

The wind was still blowing hard.


Shen-Tat HeruSet said...

All of our prayers to you now, and for a speedy containment to your fire, Clif.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I think we can call it "contained" now, even though the official word is "50-percent contained." Close to a hundred federal firefighters are still on it as of Monday, but we volunteers are done with it--we hope.