I saw wildfire today – flames reaching up through black smoke. I saw it from our front porch.
The angry, dark red flames came toward me, from below our house, which didn’t bode well. And as the whop whop sound of helicopters circled, dipped, and dropped retardant we decided to pack. We knew warnings and evacuation orders can happen at a moment’s notice and we didn’t want to find ourselves grabbing precious belongings in a last-minute panic.
We’ve never had to evacuate, even after 25 years of weekends and vacations living in a forest at our vacation cabin. There had been plenty of close calls, even ash fall, but we never saw wildfire.
When the smoke plume thankfully turned gray and faded with the onshore breeze, we decided to stay packed overnight, knowing how embers can remain hot for days if undetected.
How close does a fire have to get before it’s too close? When we considered buying the house, a house that sits atop a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac, I thought we would sell and leave if we ever saw wildfire. Had the time come? Had my fear of having no way out if a fire roared up our street become something more than an abstract thought?
We’re not living in a forest. Our town’s fire department seems to be well equipped and responsive. They show off their gleaming, bright red trucks and smiling crews whenever the town celebrates an event. And we have fire hydrants nearby.
Yet, we read how wildfires have turned into something different from what they once were. With the power to create their own weather, a fire storm, to feed an insatiable, unstoppable force. And how the fire season is changing as the climate changes, becoming dryer, windier and longer every year.
Is our town prepared to meet these new challenges? Will bright red trucks and smiling crews be enough if our street becomes a funnel for advancing flames and black smoke? We remember seeing the houses in the Oakland hills pop off in bursts of flame one after another that October evening in 1991. We watched from our front porch.