Wednesday, August 28, 2013

And On the 12th Day...

For 12 days the Rim Fire has burned.  Daily routines for everyone in Tuolumne county have been changed.  Morning routines include checking the updates from the incident managers to see if evacuation orders have changed, seeing what the latest perimeter map looks like, and assessing the air quality based on how much haze and how much discernible orange and red shows in the sunlight.

The southwest corner of the perimeter is of specific concern for us.  While the perimeter lines include areas where lines have been cut and backfire operations have been conducted, the potential for the fire to jump the lines remains.  The southwest perimeter runs along a ridge line leading into a river canyon that runs to the north.  Tuolumne City is along the west edge of that canyon, with Soulsbyville, Twain Harte, Mi Wuk, Sugar Pine, and Long Barn in the path.  To the south, the canyon runs to Don Pedro reservoir, which would put Jamestown and Sonora at larger risk.

The behavior history of the Rim Fire, from my perspective, is to run wildly up river canyons, spread by spotting, crowning (tree top to tree top), and breaking over lines.  The number of firefighters increases daily and is likely to soon equal the population of the largest city in Tuolumne county (Sonora, 4,992).  Containment is slow in coming, and the local communities celebrate every single digit percentage of increase, particularly since we experienced days of decrease earlier in the history of this burn.

It has become unusual to go anywhere in the area without coming across fire rigs from the various agencies who have come to help.  Local businesses are coming together to host dinners for the fire crews.  Volunteers are flooding to local agencies donating their time as well as food and clothing for evacuees.  Home baked goods often make their way to the fire crews in the parking lots of the local stores.

Air traffic has increased significantly, and all the planes and helicopters are fire management resources.   We were used to the occasional CAL FIRE flight leaving the base at Columbia.  DC10's and C130 sightings used to be rare.  They are all considered to be the friendly fireflies of our summer.

Students, out of school due to county wide closures, have taken to decorating the area with home made signs, thanking the firefighters for their selfless work.  The more the fire rages, the more the community pulls together.  Recovery planning is in it's infancy, but therein lies the hope of our community and our next course of action.

One day the Rim Fire will be out.  We have a forest to replant.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Living Near the Rim Fire

Nine days after the initial report, the Rim Fire continues to change the face of Tuolumne County.  The population of firefighters on the lines is now larger than the normal populations of Groveland (609) and Tuolumne City (1779) combined.  Rim Fire is the 7th largest fire on record in the state, and still burning.

I have woken up daily to the yellow-orange, orange, and one day red-orange tinged sunlight breaking through the window.  The important perishables in the house have been identified, stacked and ready to pack the car once the neighborhood enters into  the state of evacuation advisory.  So far, the house remains a few miles outside of the advisory zone, to the west and south.

I fall into the category of "sensitive persons" for air quality, so an N95 mask has become an important tool, along with lots of water, allergy meds, and albuterol.  The County Office of Education, on recommendation of the Office of Emergency Services, Air Quality Board, and Department of Public Health closed all schools in the county.  We will hear later today if that is to continue tomorrow or possibly through the rest of the week.  If I need to leave the area to get away from the smoke, I'll be leaving as if I was evacuated, with car packed.

Mom has stepped up her volunteer schedule with Interfaith to daily half days instead of twice a week.  With evacuees coming into the area, the agency has been tapped to assist with needs. The local communities are no strangers to wild fires.  They know how valuable the teams are that are on the lines as well as in the background supporting the crews.  It's hard to find someone that lives here who does not directly know a member of CAL FIRE or any of the other local fire agencies on the lines.  Daily Town Hall meetings keep the public directly informed on fire operations as well as create an open venue for direct questions from the public. 

 In a state of emergency, accurate information is critical.  For those of you out of the area seeking information for concern of family and friends,  the following websites, in my personal opinion, are the most accurate websites I have found for reliable information.  CALFIRE Tuolumne-Calaveras and Stanislaus National Forest are the lead organizations on the fire.  Motherlode Fairgrounds and Calaveras Fairgrounds are areas where evacuees can go to wait it out and gain assistance from Red Cross. - Local news for Tuolumne County.  They know a lot of people are relying on the information they produce on their website and are striving for most accurate reporting for the sake of the communities in the area. - covers all wildfires in the lower 48 states of the US.  This particular page is updated by US Forest Services for Stanislaus Forest.  Inciweb posts daily perimeter maps that can be loaded into Google Earth that provides not only full detail of where the perimeter runs, but also the terrains the teams on the ground and in the air are having to deal with.  You can see that a good portion of the 20% containment is due to granite formations, void of vegetation, that is halting the forward spread in some areas on the north east edge.

CAL FIRE has status for all fires in the state of California, including Rim.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Who's that old lady?

I had one of those mornings recently, waking up and looking in a mirror, seeing my reflection and thinking "When did that happen?"  I suppose it's natural when you reach the middle age years to reflect back and remember yourself as a younger person.  Maybe it's been on my mind a bit more since my next birthday will grant me double-nickel status later this year.

I have developed my maternal grandmother's figure, albeit I'm a  few inches taller than she was.  My orthopedic says I also have her knees.  I know when the seasons are changing because my knees will tell me long before the meteorologists take note of the distinctive shift in weather patterns of the western hemisphere.

Old?  Me?  No.

Aged?  Not until I'm ninety.  Seasoned?  Certainly.

Last year I abandoned coloring my hair so I can allow the silver threads to become my natural highlights.  True, my hair is not the rich brunette that it once was.  These days it is more of a medium ash, and trust me, I know those silver threads have hoards of friends just waiting to be invited out to the party.  If I look close, those threads are not really silver or gray.  They are white, as white as norwegian snow. 

Skipping gray and going straight to white?  I'm okay with that.  After all I have carried the moniker since the day I was born.

I have never feared age.  I had some coworkers who asked if I was sad because I was turning forty.  I was a single parent at the time, and both kids were finishing high school.  That was not something to be sad about.  That was an achievement.  My kids threw me a party with friends and family.  One of my friends showed up in a gorilla suit and provided me with a bag of supplies, which of course included Depends, magnifying glasses, and various vitamins. With forty came wisdom and perspective to view my personal history as learning experiences, for better or for worse.

Fifty rolled around and was christened by a surprise birthday party with friends and family, including live music by Roger Kardinal.  I remember thinking "Fifty is not so bad.  What's the big deal about retiring at 55?"  Three years later, I totally understood.  It's not about the age, it's about the freedom of choosing what to do with your day because there will always be grocery money, gas in the car, a roof over your head, heating and cooling when you need it,  and being completely alleviated of the responsibility of having to hold down a job.

Retirement is a ways off for me.  I haven't defined what that should look like, other than being free of the bonds of having to go to work five days a week.  The economy is not encouraging to make an exit from the workforce any time soon.  Having both my husband and I experience on-again, off-again employment for the past five years has set the goal line back at least another ten years.  Right now I'm just hoping we keep averaging to be employed more often than unemployed. 

For now I can live vicariously through a few of my friends who have been blessed with retirement and are creating their new futures.  Like Bill, who recently bought a house and moved to Talkeetna, Alaska.  After backpacking around Denali and exploring the Kenai penninsula for most of his vacations, he finally pulled the trigger.  Life Dream achieved.  Well done, Bill.  And there are others making plans to make their grand exit by the end of the year, aren't they, Ellen?

I'll get there one of these years.  In the meantime, Bill, would you hook up a webcam and point it to the night sky this winter so I can watch the aurora borealis out your window?