Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fire! Fire on the Mountain!

The thunderstorm I mentioned two days ago arrived, and with it a number of lightning strikes that started over forty forest fires in the Mt. Hood Wilderness Area. Over 260 firefighters are on the mountain today attempting to contain those blazes. Fortunately none are threatening any dwellings. However, search and rescue teams are combing the area looking for campers who might be in the back country away from roads and out of reach of communication.

Highway 26 to Government Camp is closed as well as sections of 35. Traffic is being routed back to Portland and up 84 to Hood River. (About an eighty mile detour!) Helicopters with megaphones fly over areas known to have campsites. Fire planes carrying loads of water take off and land at the Troutdale airport near my house. Air activity combined with thick smoke in The Gorge is a dramatic reminder of the summer danger in this tinder dry weather. Much as I like the freedom from the heavy rains of the winter, the opposite dry spell has brought with it devastating mayhem in the woods.

Last summer I wrote of how I dreaded fire when I owned the place on Wild Pig Ridge in the Mendocino National Forest in California. For twelve summers, I worried every day that fire would reach my place. The summer I was living up there, I had to evacuate once and I learned what I would take in an emergency. My purse and my pets.

Forest management practices, controlled burns, natural cleansing are all topics for heated debate here in the Pacific Northwest. Opinions vary widely. One thing is clear…once started, fire is a dangerous and shifty enemy and those who volunteer to fight it are brave and stalwart heroes.


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