July 08, 2005

Dogs, cat, computer, fly rods . . .

Around 8:30 p.m. on Thursday the telephone rang with a recorded message from the sheriff's department. "Have a plan," it said, in essence. We had walked up to look at the fire again (sorry, no photo), and we did not like what we saw. It was moving north along a ridge. At the end of that ridge, a steep forested slope leads down to a narrow gravel road. Our house is across the road and down a bit.

I hitched up the pop-up camping trailer, and we started loading our two Jeeps, a Liberty and a Wrangler. The dogs would need the back of the Liberty, with the rear seat folded down, reducing the space available for personal stuff. The cat's carrier would go in the Wrangler.

And, once you get the animals loaded, what comes next? Clothes--how many? Valuables like laptop computers, checkbooks, passport, cameras (too many of those!), firearms (ditto), jewelry? Financial records? Library books?

I showered and fell asleep. M. slept less, and she awoke me at 3 a.m. The light through the bedroom window was rose-pink, and it sounded as though someone had installed Niagara Falls in the near distance. Time to go.

The breeze had swung around to the southeast, and the fire was moving towards us, with embers falling downslope to start new fires out ahead.

House lights were on all up and down the road, and the night rumbled as fire engines and tanker trucks assembled at the nearby junction, which, we would soon see, was marked by a metal sign proclaiming it to be a "Staging Area."

The phone rang: M. answered but said she heard only a beep. Presumably that was the reverse-911 "Get out now" message.

Windows closed . . . curtains drawn . . . propane tank valve off . . . and lights on in every room. "Hey, this is our house here! Please don't overlook it!" (Or at least it'll go down looking like the Titanic.)

M. going first in the Wrangler, we headed down our long driveway at 3:40 a.m. stopping at the rental cabin to do a Paul Revere-style door knocking. The family from Illinois staying there had planned to leave Friday morning anyway, and they had packed up Thursday evening. They would get a nice early start, maybe beating the rush hour traffic through Colorado Springs.

A Forest Service guy was at the end of the driveway, listing which houses were occupied. He told us that our road was now the fireline where it curved between the fire and the homes.At least it would be a narrow front to defend.

And then we were off into the darkness, driving up Hardscrabble Canyon and arriving at a friend's home at 4:30 or so. He knew we might be arriving, but I wondered if he had gone to bed at midnight thinking, "They are not coming after all."

Along the ridge behind us, ponderosa pine trees were flying orange flags of death.

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