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Getting neighborly with Milepost 97

Well it’s been quite a month. We worked, played and snoozed away the entire month of July without hearing the dreaded words “triple digits,” the first of its kind since 2012. Living is easy, the corn is high, and zucchini whispers your name as it sprawls across the land. I’m not saying zucchini squash is falling from the skies, but the other day a friend and I were visiting, and — true story — I reached inside my bag to retrieve my wallet and came out with the prolific vegetable instead. We laughed and commented on summer being the season for random squash deposits, and I put it back, felt around a little and withdrew a barbecue lighter. Tempted to dive back in for a hibachi, I realized the lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer of which the great Nat King Cole reminded us are a reality. Especially the crazy and hazy parts.

We saw our first valley-choking fire of the season this past week. Though our skies have been shrouded, the lack of air quality has nowhere near touched last year, and today looked amazingly blue. But we are sensitized now. Expectant and fearful of a repeat. I feel as though we’re holding our collective breath, and not simply to avoid particulates. Could this be the only fire of size this year? Could 2019 go down as the least smoky summer in recent memory? As of Friday the Milepost 97 fire was 35% contained because of an aggressive offense during favorable weather conditions. And another conflagration (such a fancy word for fire) is being squelched in a remote section of the Applegate area.

Last weekend we drove to the coast, unable to avoid an up-close look at not-so-fun hot summer activity when we made our way through the Canyonville area. We got a lesson in prevailing wind currents as we passed the fire heading toward our turn-off. The blessed sky immediately to the north of the flames was as blue and clean as if ignorant of what was happening a mile away. Our trip home told a different story. We landed in a Portland-worthy traffic jam because of funneling cars and semis from two lanes into one. While Fiona the Honda Civic entertained us with The Allman Brothers Band wailing about being Southbound, they apparently traveled at a faster clip, making better time than we. The major stall gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery, rather than whizzing by at 68 mph. I was grateful for the recent rest stop we’d visited.

As we crawled up to the heart of the matter, firefighters stood flanking Interstate 5 and waving us on to prevent gawking at the flames which licked up the trees and hillsides right there beside us. We dawdled along fascinated by the destruction, as horrifying as it appeared. Fire wiggled through the torched evergreens like ribbons of gold rickrack. An unassuming milepost marker had left its mark in the annals of Southern Oregon wildfires.

An update from the KDRV website Wednesday night added, “Rick Barnes, President of the Douglas Forest Protective Association’s Board of Directors, addressed the gathered fire crews at this morning’s briefing — saying that “firefighters have earned their respect and appreciation for the tremendous effort they have put forward. By being nimble and agile, we took advantage of the opportunity.” ODF’s Al DeVos said, “We were able to cut off about 2,300 acres that would have otherwise burned.”

So as the fires slowly but inevitably succumb to the brave frontline of wilderness fighters, our appreciation revives for those covered in sweat and soot who give up all comforts on our behalf and on behalf of our forests and wildlife.

Give thanks and enjoy August — the only month with no recognized holiday but plenty of zucchini and hopefully, no large fires.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer and author of “Trips & Tangents: 101 Favorite Southern Oregon Journal Columns.” Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com and on her Facebook page.