Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Forest Fire Part I

   I woke up at dawn with the feeling that something was wrong. I was still half asleep and incapable of coherent thought. I wanted to go back to sleep but knew it was imperative that I didn’t. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. The approaching drone of an airplane brought me out from under my tarp, as I realized it had been circling for quite some time. There was a wall of thick black smoke obscuring the horizon barely a quarter mile to the east.
      I started hurriedly cramming stuff in my pack, frequently looking over my shoulder in the direction of the fire. About the third time I did this I could see flame rising above the trees. I just left my gear in a pile, put the leash on the dog, and hauled ass.
     Years of watching news reports in Phoenix had taught me that these fires can move upwards of 60 miles an hour in certain conditions. I had no time to think. If I ran directly away from the fire I faced many miles of unspoiled forest, maybe even a box canyon or sheer cliff that would leave us trapped. Shit.
     It was a gamble, but I figured our best bet was to run a course parallel to the fire. There was a forest service road about a quarter mile to the south. If we could make it a quarter mile south before the inferno continued a quarter mile west, there might be rangers or firemen. “Run Maya!” I yelled, “Run, run, run-run-run!”
     We didn’t stick to the trail. Heading due south we leaped fallen logs and hurdled ditches. My heart was pounding so hard I thought my chest would explode. Finally we slid down a gravel slope and tumbled out onto the road. Looking back to the east, the fire didn’t seem any closer. I caught my breath as we walked down the road to the west, hoping we wouldn’t be sorry we slowed our pace. It wasn’t long before we heard the rumble of an approaching truck.
      Frantically waving my hands, I flagged down the green forest service Dodge as it rounded the corner. I apprised the ranger of our situation, how we were backpacking and had no vehicle, and asked him how we should proceed. He made an inquiry on the radio and found out the fire was under control. It seems some idiots in a white truck had been seen shooting off fireworks at Potato Lake the night before. He asked me if I had seen such a truck, and we talked for several minutes about different people I had seen when fetching water from the lake the day before.
     He told me that between the ash and fire retardant, it could be weeks before I
could get drinking water from the lake. I figured I could give Maya the little we had in the
jugs and I’d make do with the water in the canned peas and green beans. With no fresh
water available and little food, It had become imperative that we leave immediately.

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