When I was a child, I thought like a child: that one day there would be no forest fires. I believed more in Smokey Bear than I did Santa Clause, and I knew we could prevent forest fires. Yet, year after year, the fire season came as sure as winter snowfall in the mountains of the American West.
A month before my wedding, which was to take place in a meadow where I once rounded up cattle, a place above the saddle where my hometown sat in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the worst occurred: a forest fire struck. Dave Zellmer was not only my scheduled wedding singer, he was the local Fire Chief. You can read about his frustrations with how the fire was handled in this archived LA Times article.
I was old enough to marry but not yet savvy to the politics of firefighting. I still believed we could prevent them. I began to study forest management historically to look to the future.
In 2006 Montana burned.
I know, because my best friend Kate bought me the book, “Montana On Fire.” Many called it the worst fire event since the 1910 fires. Then came the 2012 season. Now the 2015. As I write, over one million acres burn. It’s smokey enough that my eyes sting and I cough during the night. Every day I update my Facebook with the latest posts, spreading evacuation notices and news.
No longer am I a child. Fire has a season and it is only going to to get worse with drought and climate change (see The Atlantic article).
Many remain in childish thinking: climate change is not real. I remember the first time I heard Will Steger talk about global warming. He explained that we would see more extreme events. Drought and wildland fires are an example. There was no preventing the flames — lightening strikes caused the initial spark, and drought is a weather pattern. Fires burned wilderness and ranches; logging sites and choked forests; and even jumped large rivers and changed direction with its own created winds.
While I’m no expert, I can see with my own eyes that fires have become extreme in the West.
One of the saddest stories I read was about a local fire chief, one like I knew in my hometown. By the time a fire struck his community, there was no one left to answer his call for help. We are beyond our local and state budgets. My county has declared a disaster emergency. Yet, help is pouring in…from Alaska and Arizona, Mississippi and New Jersey, Canada and California, Australia and New Zealand.
And this is my hopeful adult thinking: winds of change are certainly upon us and we will need to give and accept help for our growing extreme weather events.
August 26, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the need for help in an extreme weather event. Is the help local or global? Does it arrive or the plea go ignored? It doesn’t have to be fire. Think about extreme weather occurrences and consequences.
Respond by September 1, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Border Crossers by Charli Mills
Lucy’s helmet blew off when the smoky whirlwind hit. Flames began to illuminate the dense fog of gray. Radiant heat blazed like a torch. Bad signs.
Her crew boss transmitted the call. “Need help, HQ. Fire blew up on the west flank. Lines won’t hold.” Static. No answer.
Flames screamed. The air receded. They all hunkered low together. I’m going to die, she thought. And damn it, I lost my helmet.
Lucy never heard the Bombardiers before both dropped water like benevolent sky spirits, but she felt the instant relief. The Canadians heard their call and crossed the border.
Dedicated to all firefighters near and far who answered the West’s call for help in August of 2015.