Firestone Flats Fire July 27, 2013
The morning started like any other lazy summer sun-up. We got up late, made a french press of coffee and relaxed into the afternoon. Until I heard the choppers.
I went outside to see what was the commotion. I saw a helicopter heading towards the mountain just across the dirt road. And that’s when I witnessed the huge plume of smoke. I called to Rex, “The backyard is on fire!”
We both sat and watched as the flames grew higher and higher. Stunned and in shock, we snapped photos and took video. We watched as the helicopter dipped into the Jocko River for water to pour on the blaze. I felt a growing sickness in my heart as I thought of all the animals in that area.
“You should probably get dressed. They will be coming to kick us out soon,” Rex said. I sat in my pajamas wondering if we would be evacuated. Was it really that close? Were we at risk?
Minutes later, a policeman knocked on our front door. We had five minutes to gather our things and head out of the canyon. At the time, we were pet-sitting our neighbor’s cats, so we asked for ten minutes knowing that herding cats, especially the grumpy sour puss, might prove to be a challenge.
Rex went next door to wrangle the felines, while I tried to figure out what to pack for us. If our home was torched to the ground, what of my possessions would I want, need, miss? Feeling numb, I stumbled around the cabin, gazing at Rex’s beautiful paintings and wanting to take them all. I surveyed my collection of books–stories from my childhood, old friends that I gathered over the years. I stared at several photo albums that documented friendships, birthdays, how my mother used to smile with her tilted to the right. How could I chose?
Finally I decided on my favorite painting, a welcome home gift from Rex while I was in D.C. for an internship with National Geographic Books, my baby album that my mother carefully constructed, and a suitcase of clothes. Well, I packed clothes for Rex. For me, I packed three pairs of shoes and no underwear. Obviously my mind was focused on a quick getaway.
Ten minutes later, we pack my car with a few paintings, a suitcase of shoes, two cats, and one old hound. We drove into town, passing fleets of fire trucks and fire teams fighting the flames. A total of 21 homes were evacuated in the Jocko Canyon area. The community of Arlee pulled together and offered help and support. We were grateful for the generosity of the Heart View Center where they set up a temporary shelter, graciously hosting us while we waited out the smoke and fire. Days later we returned to the undamaged cabin.
The Firestone Flats Fire consumed more than 1,500 acres. Investigators concluded it was human-caused.