“Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition”

With the El Dorado wildfire “knock, knock, knocking at heaven’s door”, I’m thinking about what preparations I should be making, just in case the wind shifts to push the inferno down the valley.

My friends who are staying with us illustrated that when the evacuation order comes, is NOT the time to plan your escape. Even though they had hours, even days to decide what to take, their brains could not function in an orderly way. Maybe it’s due to the fact that nobody actually believes that their home will be destroyed. They cling to the thought that they are leaving “just temporarily” to comply with authorities. John and Donna arrived with their two SUVs, not nearly filled to capacity. By their own admission, they had no idea what they had taken; but they soon had time to think of things they should have brought. Most important: mountain bikes and related gear.

Smokey dawn
Hopeful lilies
Just to confuse the neighbors…
The ash-dusted patio

And so, I began my preparations with a loving pictorial inventory of my yard. My heart ached to think of my 80 year-old China Berry trees being annihilated, along with their inhabitants. My next step is to create a list of things to pack, in order of importance. One may have minutes or hours, so things like pets, computers, and valuable papers need to go first. If time permits, the rest of the list gets checked off. My pop-up camping trailer provides a modicum of security, insuring that I will always have a bed, a stove and a fridge. Call it a security blanket.

A Woman and Her Dogs at the End of the World

My world continues to shrink as the El Dorado fire rages on. Ignited by ignorant party goers, it has now consumed thousands of acres of forest and displaced hundreds of people and animals who live near the forest.

Yesterday dawned cool but smokey. Since the dogs had not had any exercise in days, we headed out to the wash despite the poor air quality.

Smoke shrouded morning sun

I had intended to make it a short walk, but the overcast morning was such an unexpected pleasure, we were loathe to turn back.

The girls were eager to continue despite the bad air.

I felt like the character in A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World as I explored this familiar but now dystopian wilderness.

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My favorite book du jour
Refuse, normally overlooked, now stands in mute witness to our blind self destruction.
Fire-retardant bearing helicopters beat overhead from dawn til dusk.

This morning the smoke is too thick to go outside without an N95 mask. Thankfully, the Santa Ana winds that were predicted haven’t materialized, which means the smoke and ash remain concentrated in our valley. The monotony of being housebound is relieved by the company of our evacuated friends, John and Donna, who are staying in my mom’s granny flat while the fate of their home remains nebulous. They are lovely guests and great company!

The unexpected cooler, more humid weather has allowed fire fighters to bulldoze a fire break and ignite back-fires above their house. The back-fire was not entirely successful as it was hindered by the the more temperate weather.

John was planning a stealth trip back to his house this afternoon. The roads are barricaded and manned by law enforcement to prevent people from entering the zone; but we mountain bikers know the trails that circumvent the barricades. His plan was to hike in, have one of his scofflaw neighbors drive down to pick him up out of sight of the officials, and stay home long enough to water the plants and tend to whatever is decomposing in the refrigerator. Then, he planned to ride his mountain downhill to his home-away-from-home with us. His daring plan has now been derailed upon hearing, from the postal clerk, that the road may be reopened tomorrow.

Oh, and One More Thing…

Readers often ask me, when they hear of raging wild fires in California, if they are near my neighborhood. Most of the time, they are so far away that, if we notice them at all, we see only the smokey haze that creeps up our valley at the end of the day. Occasionally, one erupts closer to home which makes ash rain down and subdues the fierce summer sun. And rarely, hell descends upon us.

Good morning! Yes, that’s 83 degrees at 7:00 A.M.

Yesterday, with temperatures nudging 120 degrees and a light wind wafting oven-baked air from the low desert, a spark ignited brush in a newly minted park a scant 5 – 10 miles away. A pillar of smoke quickly shrouded the cheery, decorative clouds that punctuated the flawless blue sky.

By the time I came home from visiting with Sally (we have been unable to ride together because of the excessive heat), the entire ridge was in flames, clearly visible from the freeway twenty miles away.

Approaching home

This morning, we are bracing for another day of 120 degrees AND Santa Ana winds! (just in case the fire fighters were thinking they might make some headway towards containment)

Through the dawn’s early light…
…that banner still waves.

Mike, always the pessimist, predicts our forests will be entirely gone within ten years. There’s no doubt that the warming climate is taking its toll on vegetation, making it more vulnerable to fire. Rain, when it does come, is more inclined to come in brief downpours that wash the denuded soil down into the canyons, burying steams and riparian ecosystems in ashy mud.

We invited John, a cycling friend who lives in the evacuated area, to hunker down in my mom’s granny flat. Initially, he gratefully accepted; but later decided to stay in his mountain home to monitor the water system in their village. He is the chairman of the water company board.

The Village, as it’s called, is at the bottom of the ridge where the fire rages, and on the opposite side of Mill Creek. The creek is only a trickle but it has a wide swath of relatively clear wash-bottom that provides a good defensible space between the fire and the houses. That said, Santa Ana winds could easily carry embers into the wooded village. The highway to their home is closed to outside traffic but I assume, should it come to that, he would be able to drive down the hill.

The Village is nestled in this canyon, just around the curve in the road.