Tuesday, June 24, 2008


As I write this, it seems that there are wildfires everywhere in northern California.

Everything has its price. If you own a beachfront home in Florida or Maui, a hurricane might take it out. Opt for the lower real estate prices in the Midwest, and you might lose your home to a tornado.

We live in the woods. Tornadoes are rare in this part of the country, and those in the know say we have no major earthquake faults in our area. But we have fires.

The Jones Fire of 1999 started just five miles from our home. According to the California Department of Forestry, it burned 26,000 acres and 954 structures. I was away at work, and Rhonda evacuated our home with two dogs and a cat in the truck with her, as well as five llamas in a trailer behind. The Jones Fire reached within a quarter mile of our home.

I watched the Bear Fire of 2004 as it began, in roughly the same area as the Jones Fire. Strangely, it happened in the month of March, well before fire season. A record snowfall had toppled many trees and branches in the area, which provided ample fuel for the wildfire. The Bear Fire burned 10,000 acres, and destroyed 110 structures.

Dylan was three and a half then. We were both home, while Rhonda was working. From our home, I could see down the canyon, and I could see that the fire was close to the Dry Creek watershed. Dry Creek runs through the bottom of our property. If the fire crossed Dry Creek Road, the canyon would likely funnel the fire to our home.

I turned on the TV to a cartoon for Dylan, and I tried to subtly gather some belongings. I wasn't subtle enough. Dylan asked, "Daddy, what are you doing?"

I sat down next to him. "Punkin', there's a forest fire in the hills a few miles from us. It probably won't reach our house, but we need to be ready to leave just in case."

Dylan looked scared. Damn. I was hoping to avoid alarming him. That was hard to do while in the hurry mode. I told him that I'd gather up a few things, and that we'd then wait. "The fire probably won't get here, Dylan, but we need to be ready just in case."

I scurried around gathering things. Dylan sat watching TV. "Daddy?" "Yeah Punkin'?" "Would you hold me?"

Oh my God. I was so concerned with things that I'd failed to notice how scared my little three year-old was. I picked him up and held him. "It's going to be okay, Dylan." "Will the fire get our house, Daddy?" I took a breath. What should I say? "Probably not. But we have to be ready to leave just in case." Tears started pouring from Dylan's eyes. "I don't want our house to burn, Daddy." "I know, Punkin'. It probably won't. But we need to be ready."

I carried Dylan up the driveway to the llamas' area. Holding Dylan in one arm, I was able to halter the llamas and lead them to the catch pen, where I could quickly load them into the trailer if necessary. The llamas seemed to make it easy for me, as if they knew that it was important to cooperate.

For the next two hours, I held Dylan. I forgot about things. We spent most of the time out on the deck, with a clear view up the Dry Creek drainage. Dylan felt better when he watched the aerial tankers and helicopters fighting the fire. Me too.


Redlefty said...

Scary stuff. You're right -- nobody is in a place to be totally immune from the sometimes-destructive power of nature.

Pam said...

I agree, fire is scary stuff! I have a fear of wind/tornado/lightening storms. I'll admit to almost phobic on the storm front!

Fire, I think would terrify me. When it comes to the huge forces of nature that threaten you and yours, such a feeling of helplessness.

I hope the fires stay far away from you this year!

debby said...

Gotta say, I'm pretty matter of fact about the weather, but fires, big fires would scare the heck out of me.

Kids do really keep you focused on the important stuff, don't they?

Kelly said...

I agree with all the "fire is scary" sentiments here.

I imagine it's hard enough just gathering the belongings you need in case of evacuation, much less trying to corral and load up animals!

I hope the fires are few and far between this year (and well away from you!).

quid said...

We do get carried away, adults.

The kids (now adults in their own time) tell me it was scary as hell to watch their dad stockpiling for a hurricane. He was focused on the task, not on their fears. You did good Hal.

Rain every day in Western Florida. 1-2 hours, just right. Every 3 days the grass is too long for my dog to do his thing. I'll send some your way. I'm turning on my big fan, now!


debby said...

You know, Hal, I wasn't nagging over at ifsofog. Now I'm not nagging here. Since half of California is on fire right now, maybe just check in and let everyone know your family (and cats) are safe. Do you still have to travel during this time?

Hal Johnson said...

Debby, thanks for making me feel important! Rhonda, Dylan, and I are doing fine. There are still fires in our area, but for the time being, only the little town of Ono, west of Redding, is threatened.

I'm back at work today. Took a day of vacation so I could be home for Dylan's eighth birthday. We had a grand time and I'll include a report in my next blog post.

steviewren said...

Glad your family is okay. Stay safe.

debby said...

I'm glad too. I wish we could send our rain to where it's needed.

Algernon said...

Duly noted, papa.

Mary Paddock said...

It's going to be something, you know? Floods, fires, tornados. And talking the young ones through it, especially when you're worried yourself, is hard.

I'm very glad you and yours safe.