Those were the first words that spilled from my mouth Tuesday as I witnessed the swirling, ominous black cloud. Until that moment, it had been an ordinary day in every sense. Mason had swim lessons at 12.30 p.m. We met Dan at work afterwards, dropping off homemade seitan and noodles since he'd forgotten his lunch; I'd noted the roadblock at Jackson Road on our way out, California Highway Patrol officers racing up and down Bradshaw, fire trucks being dispatched where there were already plenty of engines, but thought little of it at the time? I did whisper a small blessing for the people in the green house, the pony barn near all this commotion, and held out sincere hope that whatever was going on, all would be okay for them.
As we drove back home though, passing the first street I'd noticed blocked earlier, I literally pulled over, contemplating, "That smoke plume looks ALOT bigger than a housefire?" Then we passed the next cross street-- blocked. And a third. Blocked. The street I needed to turn on to take my son home. Where our physical things are, paperwork, birth certificates, marriage license, pets, photos, memories. That one was barricaded too, and where I should've driven home, there was a CHP officer instead? I turned through the intersection anyway, much to his dismay.
"What're you doin,' lady??! Can't you see this is BLOCKED OFF?!"
I motioned for him to come around to my window. "We live down there," I explained.
"Where?" he inquired, thumbs on his utility belt, doubt on his face.
I described where I lived. His expression fell.
"I'm sorry, miss," he said.
"Is it a wildfire?" I breathed, my heart suddenly racing. "How far back does it go?"
He told me it was moving very quickly, had already jumped two or three fire lines, that they thought they'd had it slowed, but then it jumped another road.
"How do I get home?" was my immediate response.
"I'm really sorry, but you may not be able to," he told me.
The officer saw the distress on my face, and I explained my dog was there.
At the very least, I needed to get her (my hubby's cat, too, but our dog was my priority!).
He said he hadn't been on the scene long, didn't know what would be possible, he couldn't let me through but maybe if I went up a bit more I could backtrack?? I thanked him and he apologized again; I know these guys were busy and having a hard day, too. In the end, he was apologetic and sincere, wishing us luck.
I called Dan immediately, but was able to reach the house, pack a large bag for us, and finally dial my mom to help us prioritize once the pets were rounded up and our paperwork together. "Does it have a heartbeat or an official seal?" she advised. "Those are your priorities-- everything else can be replaced." At that point, smoke in shades of black and grey, brown and white were furling just over our neighbors' treelines, Coast Guard reconnaissance planes circled above our front yard, and I watched from the kitchen window as helicopters dashed and doused burning earth from a proximity all too close for comfort.
Dan made it in not long after, helping toss clothing into bags and gear into cars. The smoke began to thin a bit, planes and helicopters circling in slower cycles. Time sped by and stood suspended, all of us ticking off the minutes to a soundtrack of juxtaposed siren wails against the steady thunk-thunk of rotor blades, the low guttural moan of planes, tanker trucks, and engines roaring by literally one street away, all of us waiting, waiting.
And waiting made way for watching.
For information that didn't come.
For press releases on local websites:
"The fire has consumed over 1,000 acres and is 'zero percent' contained, Sacramento Metro Fire officials said Tuesday afternoon. It has jumped Elder Creek and Excelsior roads and is moving rapidly, driven by high winds over the flat expanse of tall grass."
We're still at home.
Our bags packed.
Ready to go if it flares back up.
At a moment's notice.
The woody scent of scorched earth heavy in the air, light ash drifting down and quietly flecking bare skin, clothing, pets, kids-- still watching smoke and listening to the drone of engines, but with the assurance "It's contained for now."
All about a mile to a mile and a half away.
We'll see what the rest of the night holds in store........
Updated from the local paper, 7.30 p.m. PST:
Firefighter injured in blaze near Rancho Cordova
By Ryan Lillis
Last Updated 2:54 pm PDT Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A firefighter with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District was taken to UC Davis Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon after suffering second-degree burns while fighting a blaze in the Rancho Cordova area.
The firefighter was burned on his hands and arms when the wind shifted and a crew of firefighters was "burned over" while battling the blaze near Jackson Road and Excelsior Road, said Capt. Jeff Lynch.
The five-alarm blaze broke out about 12:12 p.m. and is one of several wildfires burning in the region.
The injured fire captain was part of a three-man crew that was up against a mobile home, spraying water against flames. Suddenly, officials said, the wind shifted and sent flames right at the crew. Two fire fighters jumped into the cab of their vehicle, but the captain could not find shelter in time and the fire burned over him.
"We're all about saving life and property," said Sacramento Metro Fire Capt. Jeff Lynch. "And it's a firefighter's job to put ourselves between the job and property."
The fire has consumed at least 1,000 acres and is "zero percent" contained, Sacramento Metro Fire officials said Tuesday afternoon. It has jumped Elder Creek and Excelsior roads and is moving rapidly, driven by high winds over a flat expanse of tall grass.
Fire officials say several out buildings have burned, but don't know if the five-alarm fire has damaged any farmhouses that dot the area.
The fire is moving so fast, officials said, that flames are blowing past some buildings, swallowing up grass along the way but not heating up the structures enough to burn.
More than 75 fire fighters are on the scene and CalFire crews are en route. One helicopter is making water drops.
Updated @ 10.40 p.m.:
Several Fires Burn in Northern California
Bee Metro Staff and Associated Press
Updated 9:43 pm PDT Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Predictions of a nasty fire season in Northern California took the form of a series of wind-driven blazes Tuesday that scorched miles of golden ranch land, threatened to destroy a town and badly burned a Sacramento firefighter.
From freeway medians in the middle of Sacramento to the rural foothills and plains of Butte and El Dorado counties, more than 8,000 acres and 50 homes were left charred in one day. Massive plumes of gray and black smoke spilled into clear skies in nearly every direction as hundreds of firefighters attacked the blazes.
Windy and warm, dry weather - the main culprits behind the rapid spread of the fires - are predicted to stick around for at least the next two days, officials said.
About the fires:
• For several hours, residents of the ranching community of Palermo worried that their town would be destroyed by a 1,300-acre blaze. By Tuesday night, 21 homes were gone, but the fire was 50 percent contained and no longer threatening houses.
The fire reduced the town's lone junk yard – Berns Towing and Recovery – to a charred wasteland.
• Fire officials said another massive, fast-moving blaze south of Rancho Cordova destroyed 6,400 acres and several buildings.
Officials reported "shaky containment" of the fire Tuesday night and said they would spend the night monitoring hot spots. The fire consumed two homes and 10 outbuildings.
A veteran captain with the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District was badly burned on his arms and legs when the fire suddenly shifted directions and moved on the three-man crew he was commanding.
The five-alarm blaze broke out about 12:12 p.m. near Jackson and Excelsior roads.