|Fire apparatus heading back to the station.|
A small, dry thunderstorm had passed by thirty minutes earlier, with a couple of loud thunderclaps. Now there was a report of smoke a mile south of town — in other words, pretty close to this house!
I got into my Nomex fire clothes while M. walked around with binoculars outdoors. As I tossed my pack and radio into the truck, she came walking back up the driveway, shrugging her shoulders.
More on the radio from Dispatch: the smoke was near a neighbor's little ranch. I drove there. No smoke.
The brush truck caught up to me—it had left the station about six minutes after the siren, which would be hopelessly slow in a big city but is not too bad for a spread-out rural volunteer department. The pumper was on its way. At least on a Sunday afternoon there were volunteers available—twelve or thirteen turned out right away.
And we drove around: the brush truck up the canyon, some more volunteers up one national forest road, me solo up another Forest Service road, two more guys separately out away from the foothills to get a broader view. Some 23 miles later, I had seen nothing, and neither had anyone else.
We all rendezvoused at the now-closed country store where the pumper was staged. Our assistant chief mentioned that someone had told him of seeing "dust devils" or whirlwinds up on a ridge that burned last October, raising swirls of ash.
We looked at each other. Whirlwinds! That must have been it!
All this driving, looking, and sniffing plus putting away the engines took about ninety minutes, making it almost dinner time. M. was working at the kitchen counter.
"Are we having Fire House Chile?" I asked.
"How about False Alarm Fettuccine?" she replied.
We ate it on the veranda with green salad and red wine. I kept watching out across the valley, but I saw no smoke.