Note: this fire photo and other helpful information about the Stouts Fire is available at Stout Fire Information Page
Thursday August 6th. The second week of the Stouts Fire begins.
We carry on with our daily activities, but we are different.
Our conversations and routines have shifted against the back drop of smoke and fire crews.
Earlier this week I called one of my neighbors, a gutsy 70 year old woman who runs a large ranch on her own. Marlene has lived on Cow Creek Road for decades, her home a gathering place for potlucks and swimming. Now her land is in the danger zone and summer parties seem far away.
She picked up the phone, out of breath.
“I just came in to get more butcher knives,” she told me.
She and another neighbor, a character who has to be nearing 80, were out butchering a large cow she had to put down.
“Got to get it into the freezer before the electricity goes out.” she said. “I hope his home doesn’t burn down while he’s helping me.”
She laughed a little at the last line. It was not really funny, but THE FIRE has crept into our language and our lives like an unwelcome relative descending on our homes. No, that’s too mild a comparison. The fire is there with us like a parasitic twin attached to our souls and our thoughts.
How close is it?
Any homes burning?
New words and new meanings have been added to our vocabularies.
We may have heard the terms staging point, flash fuels and flare-up before. Now they jump off the page to create stark images in our minds. Then there is the term “crowning.” That one has a whole new meaning !!
For many of us our daily routines start and end with checking websites or news reports for fire updates.
We check the sky no matter where we are.
At the back of our minds is the question about go or stay.
Most of my neighbors returned to their homes when the evacuation level went down from three to two. Instead of “Go Now” it is set at “Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Residents MAY have time to gather necessary items, but doing so is at their own risk”
The trees and the solitude that brought us here as a young married couple after Nam pose a different risk for me now. The trees are fire fuel, the long driveway is a potential trap and the solitude means distance and isolation.
We moved here in 1972, escaping L.A. earthquakes and smog. We chose a site far from the main road. Looking back I think we weren’t so different from other couples of that era. The effects of Nam lingered. Bruce especially craved peace and beauty.
We built our own cabin by hand with a cross cut saw, draw knives and muscle. We cooked on a wood stove and canned jams and fruits. We read books to our children at night by kerosene lamp. We didn’t have a television. Entertainment was watching the raccoons beg for food at the back door.
Our forested home was a healthy, safe place to raise children. Now my home is closest to the fire line.
Most of my neighbors live closer to the main road with more than one way out. My driveway, while still beautiful in the fire sunlight, is worrisome. I have only one way in and one way out. I do not want to be sleeping, unaware that a spot fire has jumped the line, trapping me between it and the main fire.
More than that, I do not want firefighters to risk their lives to save me because I was foolish enough to stay there at night. I have experienced the grief of losing a husband and one of my sons. I do not want one more husband or wife, parent or child to lose their loved one just to rescue me from a fire.
The fire crews already have done more than I could expect to protect and to preserve the magic of our family’s homeland. They brought in water tanks and sprinklers. They cleared brush and dug fire breaks. They showed caring for me and my family home though we never have met before this week.
They are a welcome part of my new normal in this second week of the Stouts Fire.