July 07, 2005

Mountain lightning

After my "paint mines" post, I went out to water some plants before the day's heat arrived. A helicopter thudded off in the distance--that happens sometimes--but this one kept circling. Finally, I looked up: white smoke was rising in the south, maybe a mile away at most. Shitshitshitshit, it's a forest fire.

I went inside and told M. She grabbed her binoculars, and we started walking up the one-lane road into the national forest to a high point--walking, in case there was a sudden rush of Forest Service vehicles.

We did meet the district law-enforcement ranger driving out, and he told us what he knew--an air tanker was on its way, plus a ground crew--and then he drove down to the forest boundary by our property and parked to stop vehicular sight-seers.

All day, we have been watching the federal air show: at least four different air tankers of different sizes, one or more helicopters, and other observation planes. It's like being under a World War II air attack, minus the explosions, as the prop-driven aircraft make low-level runs over the house. Forest Service and BLM pickups and fire trucks run up and down the road. From the house, we can't see the slurry drops--we're too close, and the end of the ridge where the fire is burning blocks our view.

Last night there was "dry lightning"--no rain, just flash and boom. Everyone thinks a strike started the fire. Apparently the local volunteers got the call around 6:30 a.m., probably from someone at the little inholding ranch at the end of the road, but it was not in a place that they could reach, since they are not really wildlands firefighters, although they will attack what they can reach with a hose.

When we walked up to see the fire, I picked up a crushed aluminum pop can. M. is conducting a litter survey ("What brands do slobs drink?"), so it was a data point. I looked at the label: Mountain Lightning.

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