Monday, August 14, 2006

Fire On The Mountain Run Cat Run

Posted by Picasa--THE BISCUIT FIRE--

This fire was so big it was huge. It was so huge it was monumental.

My mother and her husband's house was within the thirty minute warning area, meaning-- be ready to split in less than thirty minutes if you hear us yell "Run!"

If I drive for about eight minutes from Mum's house, I get to this store. This is our local post office, as well. Highway 199 runs in front of this little strip mall and was often the last imaginable line of defense against this fire if the winds had changed.

I was living in Grants Pass at the time of this fire. I had just bought a house and gutted it like no sane person would gut a house. This fire interrupted everything I was doing and turned my torn-apart two story house into a storage container for nine separate computer systems, three cherished guitars, five boxes of household records, and thirty two-cats.

Yes, thirty two.

Plus my two dogs.

When you are on thirty minute warning, you don't want to have to pack your PC and find your cats, especially if they are freaked out and in a mood to go hide in the creek. I had friends, and friends of friends, all in the possible way of this fire. I had a garage with doors that closed. I could drive out with cardboard boxes and get some cats.

This is how I spent an entire day during the heighth of this monstrous conflagration.

I was the cat collector.

"Here, kitty kitty..."

I felt like one of those crazy old ladies you never want to die because what would you do with all of her cats?

Two hundred feet from my Mum's house is a big cow pasture. During this fire, the field was ploughed under and taken over by the hordes of heavy equipment tractor trailers and their hard working cargo-- BIG BULLDOZERS.

In the evenings after I calmed my Mum and her husband down, I would walk down to join in a game of horseshoes with some of the guys and gals camping there in their rigs.

These people were not the pretty people you see placating you on the cover of magazines while you wait in a supermarket check-out line. They weren't even all that clean, but you knew they showered twice a day.

But they were oh so very real.

Quite often, you'd meet a father/daughter, mother/son team and you knew these families suffered through hardships that gutted all the silly stuff and left them leaning on each other like old fences and young saplings. Ma was dead and now pretty Penny is driving the dozer because Pa has got a bad disc... Pa was crushed under a rolling dozer and now Ma is trying to carry on the family business and get it in the hands of tobacco spittin' little Elmer so she can go back to cuttin' hair and doin' perms...

Those kinds of folks.

Some had traveled for three days straight just to get here and help cut a fire line. Yes, the money was good. But you knew the money went back into their rigs, which would get them somewhere else someplace soon.

This fire lasted something like six weeks. The air was the color of fireplace ashes except where either the sun or the flames made it burst into a bright orange.

Orange is the color of fire, when they get this big. Shades of gray and orange.

The landscape cowers into these two extremes.

The hills that surrounded my Mum's house stopped existing. After a month of choking smoke, you forgot they were there at all.

Mum is convinced this fire was the start of all of her problems with her lungs. I say it was not the start, but the final straw. Benson and Hedges 100's had a small amount of say in how she now breathes.

As big and omnivorous as this fire was, I have no real stories to tell you. The park at the lake just down the road was covered in firefighter tents but you needed a pass to go hang out with them. Helicopters flew day and evening, dipping into the lake and heading off, reminding one of dragonflies...

We were always on the other side of the road from this fire. We were the victims of smoke and circumstance. We never ran for our lives but we sat on the edges of our seats for far too long.

Vans with "News" in bold letters were everywhere.

The local rock and roll station had been taken over by fire reports and fire news and fire updates and fire gossip.

If you were part of the Biscuit Fire, you were part of something enormously bigger than yourself.

You were famous, in a way. People in Minnesota knew you were having a bad day...

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