About two weeks ago I was driving over this road in happy anticipation of bringing home Dusty and Bear. I’m in no danger from this fire. It’s more than 80 miles to the east up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains and I’m not heading that way.

We had a very dry and warm winter, and as I headed over the pass I thought, “Wow, it’s so dry this year, the grass didn’t even turn green.” It all looked like tinder to me. Fire is part of nature’s usual occupation, but the size and frequency of these wildfires has increased since the 1980s and I don’t really give a rat’s ass whether you “believe” in climate change or not. To me, these fires are proof. The other side of that proof is that it snows less and hurricanes are more vicious. Whether humankind “caused” this is perhaps a debatable issue, and I know that there have been major climate variations throughout history, but I also believe that we should do whatever we can to mitigate any effect we MAY have had. Scientists generally agree that humans have affected the change in the climate and I am proud to be in a place where there’s a direct effort made to generate energy from sources other than coal and gas.

We are not all living in the same historical moment but I guess that’s always been the case with humanity.

The somewhat up-to-date statistics on this fire are:


Last year Montana, California and Washington were burning. This year is our turn. The terrain is very rugged (it’s the Rocky Mountains) and bark beetles (who LOVE drought) have killed a lot of pine trees over the past decade, so there is lots of dead wood up there for the fire to enjoy.

My feelings about fire are mixed. I have been through one — in 2003 I was living in a small mountain town in California when what is now the second largest fire hit. I was evacuated from my house for ten days. The fire was not completely out for more than three months and it burned the southernmost rain forest in North America. By the time the fire was fully contained, it had destroyed 2,820 buildings (including 2,232 homes) and killed 15 people, including one firefighter. We were traumatized — naturally — and the other night when the smoke from the Spring Fire wafted in this direction, I woke up suddenly, my heart pounding. I could almost hear the sheriff as I had heard him that night in 2003, “You must all evacuate to Mountain Empire High School. Good luck.”

In many circumstances, “Good luck” are two of the grimmest words in the English language. If all you have to count on is luck, you’re fucked.

Because I lived in those mountains, I got to see what happened next. It was fascinating to watch the resurrection of that wild world with plants that had little opportunity with the tall trees keeping them from the sun — chokecherries, wild lilac, and, naturally, the very beautiful fireweed thrived in the fertile ground left by ash. Some seeds need fire in order to germinate (redwood trees, for example). As I hiked around I thought about fire and nature — it’s not fire that’s the problem. Fire’s necessary — the problem is the SCALE. I wasn’t the only person who had this idea, I guess, because in the ensuing decade when I still lived there, firefighters routinely and carefully burned small fires to cut down on the underbrush and make it more difficult for another massive fire to blast through another several hundred thousand acres.

Did it work? Not really. Last year an even larger fire hit California along with several other very large fires.

Another fire currently burning in Colorado, in the area of Durango, has been burning for nearly a month and firefighters don’t believe it will be extinguished until the snow falls.

So that’s where I’ve been for the last five days — no internet, no phone, did learn about free internet at the local park and made some use of that. A very pleasant experience, too, sitting on a bench watching people walk their dogs. I can’t take mine there (it’s boring anyway) but it was sweet to see all the people doing their laps on the little track (3/4 mile) and to hear and see the family picnics.


23 thoughts on “Fire!

  1. Renewal of the environment is one thing. Widescale fires, another. And it may be the way of things for a while. Your photo of the fire is stunning in its horrible beauty.
    Earth is good at renewal. How’s the breathing down your way?

  2. I have to commend the men and women who willing fight these fires, such a dangerous job. We finally have had the rain we so desperately needed. I wish I could send it south.

  3. We got an unexpected and unpredicted hour and a half of pouring rain last night, which was a relief because OUR woods was getting awfully dry too. We are right in the middle of the woods and we also get lightning. We’ve been hit four times in this house and it could just as easily hit in the woods. Which would be unfortunate.

    I hope you get some rain. Soon. We supposed to get a lot more tomorrow. This is the wettest summer I can remember. Usually, we are in drought mode by this time of year. For once, we are not.

  4. Glad to know your safe and hope beyond hope they get control over the fire. It’s a tragedy. We lived through one, not nearly on the scope of yours, but when the smoke waffted through my window and burned my throat and eyes (it was 5 blocks away) it was unnerving. It was deliberately set and followed the length of the powerlines in two directions.

  5. Fire is no fun! I hope you are back in your home again after what sounded like several days of evacuation. How are the dogs? Stay safe, and spit on the fire so it doesn’t come any closer!

    • The fire is FAR (100 miles) we just had no phone or internet for 5 days. Back in 2003 I was evacuated for several days because of the cedar fire

      • Oh, good — glad it’s far away — though in this environment even that distanace doesn’t seem completely protective. Goad that you’re stiil at home — good that your communications have returned. We’re moving into high red flag danger today and till the weekend — storm waves, too, from a hurricane off Baja CA!

  6. Glad you and the dogs are OK. We don’t have such fires so much in Switzerland, only if our army shoots in the wrong direction.

  7. My heart goes out to those people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, and who’ve been evacuated, and I thank the stars for those good people who put their lives on the line fighting these fires.

    • No. In fact, the year before I moved out here there was a terrible one not far from where I live now. 😦 One of my students actually came out to help fight it.

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