Thursday, August 9, 2012

Smoke Signals

Thunderheads and lightning on a hot day in Southern California. We drive to the post office and pass three fire trucks going the other way.
"I wonder where the fire is," my mom wonders.
An hour later, back at the house, I go outside and see smoke is billowing over the near mountains. I run through the house to find my mom. She's not there. Planes flying around carrying water. I find her outside directing the arrival of a new manufactured home (she works in the community where she lives, selling manufactured homes). I point at the sky, and hope she doesn't get too nervous. A few years ago, her entire community was evacuated. I'm a Wilderness First Responder and I know how to stay calm in emergencies.
"I know, I've been watching it" she calmly informs me.
We come back inside. I urge my mom to start packing now in case we are evacuated. My mom is much less worried than I am, "oh, the fire trucks haven't even come in from this side to fight the fire. Last year, they were driving up the street to fight it. Take this one," I carry the box of family photos she points out to the pile of papers and boxes. I go outside to check the smoke. Looks bigger to me. I pack my things. My mom calmly goes through papers. She tells me there's a phone tree in the community in case they need to evacuate. I pace. I go outside to check the smoke. There's more white in it this time. My mom tells me that means they are pouring water on it. I can smell the skunks that are nesting under the house. Another water plane drones by. My mom is still sorting papers, putting birth certificates and other things in a cardboard box. I pace. Earlier there was a single column of smoke that started billowing white from the water. It split in to two columns orange and black and spread out in either direction. The fire itself is a couple hills away, I can't see it, only try to read it's signals in the smoke. The phone rings. It's the call. I stand up. My mom answers. I hold my breath. She frowns. She hangs up.
"Is it the phone tree?" I ask, because she hasn't told me.
"No, it's a sales call," she laughs. I resume breathing and notice I have my hands over my heart.
"Oh." I sit down.
We check the smoke together. It's more spread out now, covering more of the horizon. But it's also thinner, more orange. My mom calls a coworker who's son-in-law works for the fire department and finds out that the fire is in Chihuahua Valley. We look at a map. I estimate it's four miles away at most. Another plane flies over the house.
"Well, this was a good little drill," my mom says good naturedly.
"Were you even worried?" I ask.
"Well, not really. We went through this last year and I was nervous. Now if it had been really windy, that makes the fires travel fast. But it wasn't particularly windy."
The sick feeling in my stomach is starting to go away.

1 comment:

  1. I am amped by this fire too, though Google tells me that we are 587 miles away. We are on call to provide mapping services on larger fires, and watch the wildfire websites all of the time. I am wondering if we'll get called and have to rally overnight. Phone adrenaline.