A Mountain On Fire

Photo Creator: John Valenzuela | Credit: AP

Even though I’ve lived up here for over a decade now, I still have a hard time getting my head around just how large and just how dangerous some of these forest fires can be. The Lake Fire up here, still safely distant from us, has now reached sixteen thousand acres in size — it’s a number that sounds big, but it’s still strangely hard to comprehend. What helps to put it into context a little, though, is the scale of the response.

Fire Engines: 121
Fire Crews: 47
Helicopters: 16 (including night-flying)
Air Tankers: 5
Air Attack Planes: 1
Water Tenders: 14
Dozers: 7
Total Personnel: 1,875

But even knowing those numbers, I find it difficult to picture a fire that needs over a hundred fire engines and almost two thousand people to work it — and which, even with those hundred plus engines, is still only fifteen percent contained, and still growing. To the credit of the fire crews working it, the growth of the fire has slowed sharply since the beginning, so I can only imagine they’re doing a fine job.

It’s strange to imagine it being so close, though. Part of me would like to drive out in its direction, to see it — but another, altogether more sensible part is content to leave it be, and to make sure the fire crews have all the space they could possibly want to work it. I’ve already seen a forest fire once, from a distance, when my wife, myself and our friends stood on a porch, cheering an air-tanker as it dropped — and that fire was only a tenth of the size of this one. I don’t suppose I really need to see another.

After some progress against the fire, it seems there’s been a setback, possibly because of higher winds — instead of moving towards the empty desert area, it’s been driven north-east back into the mountains. The fire has grown to over 23,000 acres, and is potentially threatening a few of the residential areas now.

4 thoughts on “A Mountain On Fire

  1. Indeed, there’s a strange attraction in the beauty of the huge power of nature, even when it’s dangerous.
    I always thought that if the unthinkable ever happened, in the old days of the cold war, I’d like to stand on a hilltop and watch the nukes go off — forgetting, of course, that the very light I was hoping to see would actually burn the back of my eyeballs off, before turning me into a windblown heap of ash …

  2. On another tack, the scale of the response to the fire near you highlights, for me anyway, the size of natural disasters over there compared with what we get. The most reported thing recently over here was the flooding a coupla years back. Whilst not very nice for the people experiencing it, it was small fry compared with the raw destructive power of a forest fire, and presented little if any risk of loss of life to the people dealing with it.
    The bravery of those fire crews, and the sheer work-rate they have to keep up to keep the thing at bay is admirable. Hope they win!

  3. That sounds so scary Rob, and yet I think I would be like you, fascinated with the idea and wanting to find safe viewpoint where I wouldn’t be in the way. Natural disasters like that are so awesome and I’ve never heard of anything on that scale in England. Even in the worst drought down in the south when portions of the Ashdown Forest used to catch fire it would only be effectively small field size.

    I guess the biggest disaster that has happened on the island was two years ago when we had a massive and unexpected snowfall (we were expecting our usual one or two inches). The estimated cost to farmers was over £1 million, and bear in mind the total land mass of the island is only 13 miles x 20. At least 3000 sheep many still carrying their lambs, and 200 cattle were killed. All the animals killed were located on or around the mountain in the middle and enormous numbers of volunteers set out on foot dragging sledges up the mountain to carry sheep out to safety wherever they were able to reach them.

  4. Nature does have a certain allure when it’s running at its most powerful. We’ve had worse fires here, but I think this is the largest that we’ve seen in this area, in the time we’ve been living here. They’ve assigned more personnel since, and though the fire has grown somewhat, they have it almost 20% contained now, and that number seems to be increasing by the day — so it does seem like they’re winning!

    And though the island disaster is definitely smaller, I would imagine the actual loss of life there was higher, by the sounds of it. The one good thing about a forest fire — devastating though it can be — is that it generally moves slowly enough for people to get out of the way of it. It leaves a ruin in its wake, but actual deaths are quite rare, on the whole.

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