July 5, 2018

Canyon Fire

County Fire 3

Farm News

With the summer harvest on us, we were watching the weather closely – hot, low humidity and windy. A note of caution was sent to the irrigation team as these are the conditions that are ideal for drying out crops. Late in the afternoon, rumblings of a fire up the valley were heard. The rumblings soon turned into fact and a huge plume of smoke could be seen rising into the sky; it looked like a cloud. Turns out the weather that dries out crops grows wild fires too.

It was not long until the fire roared into a serious issue.  Sirens and aircraft became background noise, but their efforts yielded nothing – the fire was now almost 10,000 acres. The location of the fire was detailed by the farms and ranches of specific people we knew. Those locations were so much more personal than the clinical facts delivered by the officials. The fire was following the hills on the south side of our valley. In my head, I played forward what could happen. Our farm, in the flat of the valley and fully irrigated, was in little to no danger. The hills across the street however, where the two horses were out, fell into the danger category. By the night, the horses were caught and brought back to their corral.

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Sleeping lightly, the vibrating of my phone wakes me up at midnight. A friend is calling. I answer and in a factual tone, he tells me the fire is heading towards his ranch and they told him to evacuate – he is looking for a place to put his livestock. We chat about some options. The following morning the fire has passed; it has burned up the hills and passed our spot in the valley. Our neighbor returns his livestock to his ranch and notes that the fire burned right up to the firebreak he disked into the dry grass at the edge of his property.

With the local old-timers, we talk about where it is burning now. They scratch their heads and think out loud confirming with each other that never in their lives can they remember that remote and rugged patch of brush burning. I think about the thick, dry brush that for decades has gone without its natural pruning from fire. Its burning was inevitable.

County Fire 1

Ash falls from the sky, and over the farm, lingers a thick layer of smoke. The smell of smoke has become normal.  A cloud is no longer the best analogy to describe it, not as thick as a fog that sits a couple of hundred feet off the ground. I can see clearly all of the hills that surround the farm now − bright yellow grass and oak trees until the layer of smoke. Directly west, about a mile away, the hills are black and charred. The smoldering makes it hard to see the details, but it clearly was burned.

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