On friday, we had an incredible lightning storm. I was out that night with my writing group and as we left the cafe and walked across the overpass, we watched the flashes of lightning strike through the treacherous black clouds which were smothering the hills. Fascinating and beautiful. And then I thought, Uh Oh. I bet there's a fire burning now.
Not only is there a fire burning, there are over 130 fires burning in Mendocino County, one just ten miles from the city of Ukiah where I live. Every fire is burning out of control because there just isn't enough man power to deal with so many fires at once, especially when you realize that all of Northern California is threatened by fire. Cal Fire is on overload, so Mendo Fire Crews are battling the blazes mostly on their own. There are a lot of Community Volunteer fire crews, inmates from the County Jail, and homeowners out there, battling thousand acre blazes with garden hoses and shovels.
The smoke burns your throat and eyes. I'm watching my daughter closely for signs the smoke may be damaging her lungs. So far she seems fine, although she did have a cough last night. I don't want to interrupt her daily routine too much, though, so I let her go to school as usual (they are keeping the children indoors during recess). The forecast is 30 days before the smoke clears. It's going to be another one of those decisions where I have to balance her happiness with her health. For now, we'll stay where we are.
In Ukiah, we are mostly safe, but of course, not completely. Besides the heavy smoke dimming the sun and reducing visibility to less than 1 mile, a fire could reach this town. When I was in the seventh grade I lived in Lakeport in Lake County. That summer, Cow Mountain caught on fire and the fire blazed almost unstoppable toward the town. My family and I stood on a hill in town one night and watched the flames crest the hill and race toward the freeway. We were all praying the flames wouldn't leap the four lanes of asphalt, but the fire was burning so hot and the air was so dry, the town was on high alert. No one slept much that night. We had suitcases packed, waiting for the evacuation order. Somehow, CDF and local fire crews managed to keep the fire from reaching the freeway, saving the little town of Lakeport. A few days later, the fire was out.
I have a list of things to take, just in case. Documents, medications, some clothing, food and water, dog food, both computer towers, my lap top, and Paul's letters. If there's time I'll grab the photos. Both vehicles have full tanks of gas and we have friends in the Bay Area we can go to if need be. Odds are, Ukiah will remain untouched by anything more than dense smoke, but just in case, I'm ready.
This is California. We all need to be ready. If it's not catching fire it's falling down in an earthquake. I've lived here my entire life, so droughts, wildfires and earthquakes are nothing new to me, but the loss of life and property is tragic. You can't take anything for granted, not even in California where the weather is gorgeous 80% of the time and the views rival the French Riviera. Enjoy the beauty, but watch for smoke.