A heavy thunderstorm had passed through earlier, and there was no one on the highway, only a pair of raccoons that I braked to avoid at the state highway junction, about half a mile from the fire house.
I got gotten directions that sent me up a gravel road into the Wet Mountains, into a gated mountain subdivision where I never had gone before. The night was absolutely black, but I followed what I thought were the tracks of the brush truck.
Eventually, I caught it--and two volunteers' private vehicles in convoy--and followed it winding up and up in the dark, switching into four-wheel-drive when the road turned soupy.
At the reporting party's house (a heavily wooded hillside, a steep narrow road--yikes), people said they had seen flames from a lightning strike. Lightning still flickered to the east, over the prairie.
By then two other volunteers on ATVs were exploring the canyon. T., the asst. chief, parked the brush truck at a road fork lower down. Two others guys and I stood at a high point, sniffing and looking. K., the chief, drove up to another high spot.
Nothing. Just radio crackling and comments about certain people seeing alleged fire through "beer goggles."
One firefighter wondered if they had not seen a "water dog," a nickname for those smoke-like columns of mist that crawl up mountainsides in rainy water. (Some people say they are the basis of the "feathered serpent" image.) I have known other cases of "water dogs" being reported as forest fires.
An hour later, we drove back to the fire house. We reasoned thus:
- Half an inch of rain had fallen this evening, so the woods were wet.
- No one could find any fire. No homes were threatened.
- Even the feds would not do much in the middle of the night--and they get paid.
- Someone could look again in the morning
In the engine bay, K. shrugged his shoulders. "It's good to see all your smiling faces," he said. And then we went home.