I’m watching a fire burn

by Lorin Michel Sunday, April 23, 2017 11:10 PM

When you live in the southwest, you have brush fires. It’s part of the dark magic of the desert and whether talking about the Sonoran or about Los Angeles, it’s definitely desert. Our desert is not sand, though; it’s nothing like the deserts of the middle east or Africa. There is much plant life and desert grasses, things that grow dry in the 100 plus degree temperatures that are normal for several months of the year. 

We lived in Calabasas, off of Las Virgenes Road/Malibu Canyon, in 1996. On October 22 of that year, when the Santa Ana winds were violent, the air was dry and the canyons drier, a transformer blew and a fire started. It was about a mile from where our townhouse was located. The fire department responded quickly, as always, but the winds were horrific and there was no shortage of fuel for the fire. The winds were blowing west, toward the ocean, so we were never in any danger but the road was quickly closed. Kevin and I went to the barricades and watches as flames of up to 100 feet consumed towering trees and everything else in its 13,000 acre journey through the canyon and into the ocean. Six days later, it was finally declared contained, after destroying six houses and four mobile homes.

Several years later, we drove to a wedding in Santa Barbara and drove into something that can only be described as Armageddon. Fires were burning in the hills, and when fire is consuming fresh vegetation, the smoke is thick and black. It billowed out across the freeway, obscuring the sun and giving the day an eerie, apocalyptic feel. The same thing happened another morning as I drove to an early meeting in Santa Monica. In my rearview mirror, I could see the orange glow of hillsides on fire. After my meeting, I drove into smoke and ash. In neither incident was the fire close enough to close the freeway, but it was close enough to feel dangerous. 

In Arizona, there was a fast moving brush fire in June of 2013, in the more northern part of the state. It started on June 28 and on June 30, it flared, trapping and killing 19 firefighters from the city of Prescott. It was horrific. 

Ten years before we moved to Tucson, to our little corner of the world in the north east corner, there was the Aspen Fire which that consumed Summerhaven in Mount Lemmon above us. Neighbors who lived here at the time talk of watching the sky, seeing the billowing smoke rise as if from a spewing volcano. Ash rained down like snow. The fire ate everything in its path as it descended the mountain. The last line of defense was Catalina Highway. Firefighters had told residents below to pack. If the fire jumped the road, they would have to evacuate. Our neighbors were here at the time and said watching the flames come over the mountain and knowing that all could be lost was serenely terrifying. As it was, the fire destroyed nearly every structure on the mountain, 340 in total. It burned 84,750 acres and there are still remnants of the destruction visible as you drive up the hill. 

Today, we watched as a fire burned in the Santa Rita Mountains just to the south of us. The mountains, one of the four ranges that rim Tucson, is at least 10 miles from us and perhaps farther. The telling smoke billowed up and hovered in the sky, hugging the mountains themselves. As I write this, it’s still burning, aided and abetted by the hot, fierce winds.

Another fire, more south and to the east, in Sierra Vista was contained early. But there was a chyron scroll on one of the local news sites about Fire Weather Warnings in effect for, among other places, Eastern Pima County. Where we live. I’m watching. I’m not apprehensive at all, but it reminds me that the dark magic is still at work. And while not something to celebrate, at least something to appreciate, in all of its destructive glory.


live out loud

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