Summer’s heat is coming. Dread accompanies its arrival.
Articles in the local papers warn of a possibly devastating summer due to California’s continuing drought. Wildfires of unprecedented intensity are possible. This means more to me than it does to most people since I experienced what is called the most devastating wildfire in California’s history.
The Harlow Fire happened in 1961 and was described by the Sierra Star, our local paper, as “the fastest burning fire in California history.…” It destroyed 18,000 acres in two hours and raced up the back of the mountain we lived on at almost fifty miles per hour. When it was finished, it had burned 43,000 acres.
|Browning has already started|
At the time I worked at TV channel 47 and was living in an apartment in Fresno. From there I could see the huge pall of smoke topped by an enormous cumulous cloud. At night the sky glowed. My parents showed up at my apartment after dark in their old 1940 Ford flatbed truck which carried the few things they could grab from the house before flames chased them away.
The following morning Dad and I headed up the hill, got through the roadblock south of Coarsegold, and drove down the little dirt road to where we expected to see the ruins of our house. Miraculously, the house survived because a neighbor had used a garden hoe to clear away a few weeds nearby. Apparently he had run through the neighborhood right after my parents left. We were eternally grateful to him, for sure! Dad and I then turned our attention to putting out the many small spots that were still burning. I was wearing shoes that had a loose fit at the top (they were called Desert Boots, I think—very stylish at the time) and stepped onto a spot that sank, plunging my foot down into smoldering embers. I pulled my foot up, filling the shoe with hot stuff. That really hurt and took awhile to heal.
The air was barely breathable. Noise from fire trucks, airplanes, helicopters and chainsaws added to the hellishness of the scene. Not a stick had escaped the inferno that had been raging only hours earlier.
That was over fifty years ago. Now we are preparing for a repeat of that awful time by clearing ground cover for at least a hundred feet around our buildings. We have few vulnerable trees close by, being widely spaced and trimmed of any low branches. But there’s always more to do, which we will get done as soon as we can.
Adding to our protection is a large-diameter pipe coming down the hill from our two 5,000-gallon water tanks. Our hundred-foot fire hose will provide some protection, or at least can refill the tank of any fire truck that happens by. Current policy of Cal Fire is to protect any houses whose owners have obviously prepared for fire; if owners neglected to do so, the firefighters will move on.
Wish us luck. Oh, and pray for rain!