I feel like my heart is breaking this morning for the little mountain community of Idyllwild. I have been cursing, coughing and hating the thick blanket of smoke that hangs over my own mountain town for two days now. My little rural mountain town sits one mountain range and about forty miles away from the quaint little village of Idyllwild that sits at 5,300 feet among the pines.
There has been a 25,000 acre wildfire burning near Idyllwild for five days now.
I know I shouldn’t complain to much about the thick nasty smoke and the fact that I can’t go running unless I want to be coughing up ash and filth for a week, when across this valley over three thousand mountain residents just like myself are being evacuated from their homes and wondering if they will even have homes to go back to.
You see, I remember what happened in out own mountain town in October 2007.
It is incredible to think that was only six years ago. I feel like I can still see the orange smoke and feel the horrible dread of what if like this happened only yesterday.
I remember the thick clouds of pink and orange on the horizon and the flames following close behind as we evacuated our home town. I smelled the smoke and I felt the ash in my hair and on my skin as I threw my belongings in my truck bed and drove those familiar mountain roads looking at the tall pines that were one hundred years old in my rear view mirror and wondering if they would still be standing when I returned.
I slept on the dirty thin carpet of a tiny hotel room with my family (And twelve cats between us). My Dad is a truck driver and I remember crawling out of my sleeping bag on the dirty thin hotel room carpet to unlock the door, letting him into the hotel room at four a.m. when he returned from his week on the road. It wasn’t even light yet on that October morning, as he told my mom and me that he had talked to a friend from church and been told our whole town had burned to the ground during the night. (This would turn out later to be a rumor, in the end only two hundred and one houses in our town perished) I remember the tears on my cheeks in my sleeping bag, not wanting my parents to know I was crying and wishing I could hold one of the twelve cats to comfort myself but they were all pretty pissed off at having to be “friends” with other stranger cats.
I wondered hopelessly how long I would be living in a hotel room for.
Fast forward six years ahead and forty something miles to the south.
This morning when I woke up at five a.m. the sunrise was a scenic pink, red and purple from the sky full of white smoke that has choked this whole valley for days now.
As destructive as they are, forest fires make the most beautiful sunrises. Normally as I commute I could see the San Jacinto Mountains that holds mile high Idyllwild in the distance.
Today all I see is smoke.
Before heading into work I read an online news story about how with the direction the winds are blowing toady, it means that the fire will be blowing sparks straight over the town of Idllywild for the next few days.
One month ago I climbed to the top of San Jacinto for the first time.
My friends and I stopped at the same ranger station off Highway 243 that all the news reporters are showing behind them on the news. This had been the first time I had been to Idyllwild in ten years. I remember driving to meet my friends at the ranger station at six a.m. the streets of the small town had been nearly empty and I had remarked on what a cool little town it was and how we should come up here and do more hikes.
Our group of five friends summited San Jacinto at 10,853 feet and I ditched my friends, jogging back down the trail and hoping to make it to the top of popular Tahquitz Peak before meeting my friends back at the car hours later. I never made it to the top of the popular granite peak that sits just above Idyllwild and now I fear I will never do that trail as so much of this forested area has burnt in the last five days.
After our exhausting all day hike, my friends and I went to the only restaurant open in town at seven P.M. (life in a small town) As we enjoyed our hamburgers we noticed that every one in this small town seemed to know each other. If we had been in a bar and not a restaurant, I would have felt like we were in Chicago’s Cheers Bar and Norm would walk in at any moment.
I hope the town of Idllywild survives to host more evenings like that for exhausted and sore day hikers and back packers.
I will spend my day praying for the town of Idyllwild