The hills are a dry, dusty dirt mess as I head out of town. This drought is destroying our once beautiful national forest. Years ago when I commuted this mountain highway to work in the spring time the hills would be a bright and vibrant green reminding me of Ireland, a foreign land I have never walked the shores of. I imagined it looked as lushly green as these hills on the road to my hometown on a foggy spring morning, dew hanging in the cool mountain air.
That dewy spring day seems worlds away from the intensely hot and hellish autumn we are living through in Southern California. ( I say living through, but when it’s above 108 and humid for a week straight, every day is just surviving) The last few days the highs in the valleys below my mountain town have been 109 to 112, and that’s not even Palm Springs I’m talking about; that’s just in San Bernardino and Riverside! (50 miles closer to the Pacific Ocean than Palm Springs!)
I commute each day from my precious forest, deep and dead in drought to the valley below, were they laugh at me when I complain that it was a horrendous 85 degrees at my cabin in the mountains today! This morning as I drank my coffee ( iced, obviously) and watched the news it was nothing but weather warnings. Southern California was under a heat advisory for the next few days. The drought dried grasses on the side of the highway were dry as a bone and every mountain resident had great fear in their hearts about the F word.
I left an hour early for work, a great plan to stop at Target real quick before my night shift. I was cruising down the highway listening to music loud a Subaru ahead of me on the mountain highway and another Subau behind me. All of us mountain residents drive the same type of vehicle. Suddenly the traffic came to a dead, dead stop.
After slamming on my brakes and quickly hitting the hazards to warn the Subi behind me I sat there motionless. Loud, twangy country music filling my ears, steel guitar blaring as I wondered what was the hold up. Was it another accident? Was it a stalled car or had some one hit a large animal?
I was stuck on a blind corner and I realized what ever was going on up around the bend it must be bad; all the cars in front of me were turning around and heading back up the highway ( this was seven miles down the highway from my front door, half of my commute. It must be a bad situation if people were turning around already)
As I sat in my Subaru listening to Tim McGraw serenade me suddenly in just moments thick black some was filing the sky above the pine trees.
I couldn’t have stopped the words from escaping my mouth even if my eighty four year old grandma was with me. There are a few things that terrify us here in our little mountain home town.
Forest wildfires are at the top of that list.
I didn’t even turn off my car. My thoughts were in a jumble as I grabbed my iPhone, texting friends the terrible words
Fire on the highway
My feet hit the concrete and I rounded the corner to see a vehicle fully engulfed in flames just down the road way. I talked to the other drivers around me, also exiting their vehicles, no one had a fire extinguisher and there was no help in sight yet. We pondered, shouldn’t we be hearing sirens by now?
Where the car fire started was a dead zone for cell phones, miles from the nearest cell tower and as we talked and got a few pictures we knew we would have to drive back up the highway a mile to get a signal. As we had this conversation a chp came down the wrong side of the highway, finally ( it had felt like forever since the smoke appeared when actually it was probably just a few minutes.)
As I stood there with neighbors from my small town, we all had the horrible thought in our heads, that car is fully engulfed, will this fire spread? It was a hopeless feeling. Before the chip showed up none of us had shovels or fire extinguishers or anything to help at all!
With the arrival of the authorities I decided to drive the seven miles back to the top of the highway and take the long way down the mountain to the valley; it seemed like a good chance that the highway could be closed for hours.
Tim Mcgraw was still singing about diamond rings and old bar stools as I turned my car around on the narrow mountain highway and made my way back towards home, fire trucks screaming by outside my cars windows now as a hot wind wiped my face. I drove up towards the other highway out of ” town” and eventually the city down below.
The fire trucks were showing up fast, thank god, as I made miles between me and the fiery vehicle and I just prayed that the fire fighters would work fast and stay safe as in a matter of three minutes the black smoke filled the bright blue skies.