I know, I know, we are told how wonderful California is – and indeed, the state has many desirable advantages, leaving out politics.
But the Golden State also has a downside, and we residents are going through that now – again. It was a horror last year, and it’s worse now.
In a word, it’s FIRE, and until you see what a wildfire looks like in real life, you can hardly imagine the intensity, the force and the insidious, destructive power of those flames.
It’s one thing to see the news and keep up to date on the progression of the fire horrors that are ongoing. But when the news report notes a location that you know, and probably involves people you know, the whole scenario changes.
That happened to me Thursday night.
The news headline was that the Dixie Fire had burned through and destroyed the small town of Greenville.
The headline caught my eye and wouldn’t leave me: “Greenville is Gone.”
I know that town. Good friends have a home and land there, and my family has spent many happy hours with them over the last years.
As I write this, I don’t know for certain the fate of their home and property, although the general belief among our friends is that it is all gone. I don’t even want to think about it. It’s too painful.
What I do know from news reports is that the town is gone – a community of some 800 people had to be evacuated. Greenville survived the Gold Rush era and had many buildings from that time.
Plumas County Supervisor Kevin Goss wrote on Facebook that the fire “burnt down our entire downtown. Our historical buildings, families homes, small businesses, and our children’s schools are completely lost.”
Videos show the main street as a complete ruin of ashes and debris. Among the town fixtures that burned were the gas station, church, a hotel, museum and a popular bar. These and more were gutted – nothing is left.
Longtime resident Tom Johns said, more than 100 homes were destroyed as well as businesses. He added, “My heart is crushed by what has occurred there.”
Congressman Doug LaMalfa, who represents the area, said, “We lost Greenville tonight. There’s just no words.”
Fire spokesman Mitch Matlow said: “We did everything we could. Sometimes it’s not enough.”
As the flames continued, they moved toward another nearby town, Taylorsville, as well as others in the mountainous area. People had to be evacuated and some resisted. It isn’t easy.
Not only are there people to be moved, there are the pets and livestock – dogs, cats, fowl, horses, cattle and more. They are all lives that people want to save.
Smoke fills the air, hot ash falls like snow, the few roads are clogged with personal vehicles and fire equipment – it is a horror and it continues as I write this and will for days, perhaps weeks, to come.
I am haunted by it, and last night, after I saw the news coverage of Greenville burning, I couldn’t sleep. I sat at my computer until 5 a.m., just reading and seeing the videos of the flaming horrors.
It reminded me of my childhood, when I was in the second grade. On a cold January day, we had a fire drill at school – and were marched outside into the snow. It was a REAL fire – not a drill.
I looked up at the five-story building and saw our janitor, Donald, standing on the corner ledge of the roof. The firemen had him jump into a big, round net they held on the ground. He landed safely, and right after that, the corner of the roof on which he’d been standing collapsed onto the ground. The whole school burned down. The only thing that was saved from our classroom was the teachers’ grade book.
The experience shook me so much that I couldn’t even look at the word “fire” without becoming fearful. To say I respect the danger of fire is an understatement.
Wildfires are a natural part of the California year, because of the seasons and the temperatures. But this year, and last, have been record breaking. The “fire season” started earlier (late spring) and lasted later (over the summer and into autumn) – and the “rainy season” has virtually disappeared. There was practically no rain and very little snow over the last few years, meaning the forests became tinder dry – a perfect target for a spark or lightning. The result is history.
As I write this, more than 600,000 acres have been burned by more than 6,050 fires statewide so far this season. There has been no confirmed loss of life or major injuries, but the loss of structures and personal property is uncounted at this point. And keep in mind these fires are still raging.
The temperatures are high – it is HOT! – and the winds are picking up, and we’re told, with the wind, the flames spread three football fields of distance per second!
It’s a terrible combination that the more than 20,000 firefighters and support personnel are dealing with, and there’s no end in sight. Consider, it’s only early August. And IF it happens, the rainy season wouldn’t even start until October at best.
If there are any heroes in this picture, it’s those firefighters who put their lives on the line every day, knowing they’re at the mercy of an unforgiving nature with no end in sight.
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