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Fire in the neighborhood

A neighbor texted me at midnight to say the Worthington fire was only five miles away. She had packed up a few things, in case.

Packed up a few things? I’d heard of a fire nearby, but assumed it was farther away and on the other side of Highway 62. Wildfires in our neck of the valley usually land somewhere beyond Sams Valley. This one flamed northeast of me, between Butte Falls and Eagle Point and on our side of the highway.

Those of us living in tinder dry country know how quickly five miles worth of fuel can be consumed. One source claimed that, depending on circumstances, a brush or forest fire can easily move along at 10 miles per hour. Flames travel even faster when a strong wind propels them forward, further drying the fuel in their path. We had wind.

I didn’t see her text until the following morning, at which time I began searching for updates and thinking about how countless others have lost their home and belongings to wildfire. Why couldn’t it happen to me?

But streets, watered landscaping and a city with a population of just under 10,000 lay between us and the fire. Surely “they” wouldn’t let it travel this far.

There was no overwhelming fear or panic, just consideration about what I would pack if I had to make a hasty exit. I have an old house full of memories and sentimentality. I’d never seriously considered evacuation. Maybe it’s my age or faith, or a combo of both, but I found it surprisingly easy to resign most things if it came to that extreme. Aunt Sophie, as I call my home, had seen quite a lot in her 120 years and stood firm. Just in the 31 years I’ve enjoyed being under her roof, we’ve shared flood, earthquake and fire. Oliver and I would be minimally packed and ready.

According to the KDRV website, “BLM issued a statement last Friday afternoon, crediting the swift response with keeping the Worthington fire from spreading overnight.”

“The initial and extended attack teams have been extraordinary in the aggressive efforts to contain this fire,” the agency said.

I read about six bulldozers and sensed comfort seeing them trucked down my street. In addition, nine helicopters, three water tenders and 600 personnel showed the fire who was boss, this time. Success didn’t come without a healthy measure of respect and sweat equity.

I tried to interview a firefighter on the Worthington fire. I wanted to include an experienced voice who understood firsthand, and could try to explain the incredible physical hardship — to describe in his or her own words how it felt to get the call and wonder what toll this one would take. I had hoped they would share what went through their mind while tramping through smoldering brush and trees and following the protocol lined out for them. Those who were asked, declined an interview, opting to remain mum.

My motive is to lift up those brave men and women who put their lives in harm’s way, knowing there are no guarantees something won’t go wrong — a falling tree, a tipped bulldozer, having to deploy a fire shield while the flames roar over top of you. Fires are shape-shifters, with a bent toward recklessness. I couldn’t allow this opportunity to pass without a very public and heartfelt thank you to one and all for fighting on our behalf. When it’s personal, gratitude rises.

As of today, the Worthington fire has been tamed at 761 acres and is 75% contained. It smolders and creeps, like an unpredictable animal encircled by a swath of fire line 100 to 150 feet deep.

I put away the cloth satchel I’d prepared. It held a toothbrush, Oliver’s dishes, a couple of towels, my grandfather’s shaving mug, and my grandmother’s music box — a humble grouping tending toward optimism. I have since mentally brought other treasures into the collective, if I had time. I’m thankful I didn’t have to make those choices, and equally thankful for the perspective check. Thank you, firefighters.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.