First, let me assure you that I am not writing this post in the back of an ambulance or in the midst of the ashes of my home. All is well in the homestead and we are not directly affected by the Creek Fire. I say that while at the same time breathing heavily smoky air and in the wan light of a sun just barely breaking through that smoke. The Air Quality Index in Clovis is 132, which is deemed unhealthy (well, duh!) and fine ash is visible in the air and falling on anything outside, like parked cars. But still, all is “well”. The smoke overcast has reduced temperatures by 10–15 degrees, a curious benefit.
The aforementioned Creek Fire is just one of a dozen or more ongoing wild fires in California. To say that fire crews are stretched to the limit is a gross understatement. At last report, there were some 2,300 people working this fire in various capacities. Not all of those are directly on the fire line as supporting an effort of this magnitude is no small logistical matter. Our oldest grandson has some experience with this, having done support work with the CCC (California Conservation Corp) and last year on a Forest Service crew in the Sierras. Ironically, he had to sit this year out as he had enrolled in an EMT certification class and thus did not apply for a fire crew. Naturally, as with all else, his course was cut short by the corona virus shutdown and he will have to repeat much of the work. An EMT certificate is an important option for firefighters of any type.
Along with the “normal” California fire season, we have been affected in the past by fires here and abroad. You will recall that in 2018 there was disastrous fire in Greece. We were in Thessaloniki at the time and witnessed much of it on the Greek news reports. It was heart rending to watch people making a futile effort to combat the flames with tree branches. It was even more so as refugees from the fire fled to the shore to escape the flames. Many did not make it.
At the same time, the Carr Fire was raging through the northern counties, destroying a large part of Redding CA. As it happened, our middle grandson was at a camp (fishing camp, of course) north of Redding and his family had gone up to collect him and do some camping. We were watching this and the fire in Greece at the same time. Trying to connect to them became a serious problem as they were out of cell phone range. Ultimately we connected and were able to assure each other that we were all safe.
Again, the year before, we had gone north to witness the solar eclipse. At the time yet another large fire was raging through the north country. We spent a couple of days in Medford with the same smoke and gloom.
The Creek Fire has to be regarded as the mother of all California wild fires. It started in the evening of Friday, September 4. According the current report, it now covers 201,908 acres, or over 315 square miles. That would easily cover the entire Fresno-Clovis-Madera area. How much more it will grow will depend on weather and terrain. Of the more than 100 miles of fire line, there is so far 8% containment. It is expected that the fire will not be completely controlled and out until mid-October.
How has this affected us? To begin with, the air pollution from the smoke has added to the already onerous quarantine. Even if we could go somewhere, we hardly want to. Thus we are confined more than ever. At one point, when mountain communities were one by one being overtaken and evacuations were ongoing, there was a real question as to possibility of it reaching down into the valley. Unlike the mountains, the valley is mostly grassland or agricultural, with numerous orchards. A strong wind from the East could have pushed it this way, but the nearest fire line has stabilized just the other side of Tollhouse, about fifteen miles line of sight from us. Even so, serious discussions ensued about what to take in the event. That quickly becomes overwhelming and, as one friend who had the experience noted, it is best to decide before the need arises.
The devastation is heart breaking. I have been up in that area many times over the years. Seeing the complete destruction of much that is familiar is hard to bear. One landmark, a small store at the top of the long grade up to Shaver Lake, known as Cressman’s had been there for over a hundred years is now a smoking ruin. It may be restored and, in time, the forest will grow again, but this fire need not have happened or been so severe. There will be much argument to come about forest management. We can only hope they get it right this time and no one has to live through it again.