A little scenario, from
my perspective, of the Fatherís Day firestorm (also known as the Lost Cannon
Fire) here in Walker, CA.
We are all safe now, though
things have been a bit hairy during the past few days. This fire (now called
the Lost Cannon Fire) started on Saturday, June 15th about 1 PM. We first saw
the unmistakable plume of forest fire smoke when we came back into town late
that afternoon, though it looked pretty far away to the southwest. Actually it
was about 9 miles away as the crow flies, so our immediate evaluation of the
danger to us and the town of Walker was minimal. However, early Sunday morning
(on the 16th) two sheriff's deputies came to the door warning us of a
possible evacuation if the fast-moving fire came closer.
As the day went on, the smoke drifting into
our valley got thicker and by about 4 PM there was an increasing reddish glow
over the ridge in back of the house. The fire had moved very quickly, there was
no stopping it as it chased backcountry firefighters from the USFS and US Marine
Corps across Little Antelope Valley at speeds sometimes faster than their
vehicles could go. The speed of the firestorm was surprising to those in charge
of fighting it.
The fire had quickly leaped two ridges,
raced across a very large open meadow and covered several miles in a matter of
hours. It was shortly after 4 PM when we saw it come over and around the hill
at the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon just to the south of us. The flames roared
down the canyon toward our house on 40-50 mph winds, creating its own wind and
covering the quarter mile in probably less than 2 minutes. It leapt ahead of
itself, starting fires far in advance of the main body of flame.
Since we are the last house up the canyon
(or the first house from the fire's perspective) we were hit first. Our nearest
neighbor is more than 100 yards down the canyon and a little off to the east,
with houses closer by. Our house is totally exposed and was directly in the
path of the firestorm. The fire came directly at us - going up to, around and
over the house.
The agencies there to fight the fire (USFS,
CDF, BLM, etc.) were nowhere to be found. From early morning on Sunday, at
least 6 cars or trucks with officials from several agencies had been up at the
house at various times, telling us where they would put the fire breaks and
deploy the fire crews. We had showed them where to gain easy access to the BLM
land up-canyon from us with their bulldozers. We had walked our property with
several of them and they assured us they were prepared and would stop the fire
before it got to the house, so it was not going to burn.
When the wall of
flame finally came at us, the local Antelope Valley VFD structural fire unit was
the only outfit there - and we got hit with the full force of the firestorm.
Now, I finally really know what the term 'firestorm' means. My wife Lisa and
son Kirby, and two of our cats had evacuated by then, locating to my classroom
Seeing no other firefighting support, I
elected to stay at the house with the VFD. The fire was very intense,
overwhelming the firefighters with heat and a 30-foot wall of flame. The VFD
judged their lives and equipment to be in extreme danger, and felt they did not
have the resources to battle the blaze. They left, hauling ass through the
smoke down the driveway, with fire burning all around. The firemen told me to
get out of there, but I again elected to stay. By that time the heat was very
intense and the smoke so thick, I couldnít see the VFD after they had driven 50
Armed with my trusty garden hose, standing
on the roof, I sprayed water on the side of the house that the flames were
coming toward to keep it from bursting into flame. I sprayed me, too, so I
wouldn't turn into a crispy critter. I also wetted down the two junipers next
to that side of the house, knowing if they caught fire, the house was going to
be lost. The VFD had tried to cut them down, but they couldnít finish before
the fire struck.
Finally, the pumphouse supplying the water
to the hose burned down, taking the water pressure and the last of the flowing
water with it. Meanwhile the storage shed, between the house and pumphouse, had
also disintegrated in a burst of flame and was gone quickly. The heat and smoke
was intense. I could not see very much because of the smoke, but could hear
pinion pines going up around me like roman candles.
Miraculously the firestorm passed, the
flames heading down toward my neighbors and the rest of the town of Walker. The
house was still standing (relatively unscathed) however there were flames,
flares and hotspots all around (including near the propane tank). I used the
water in the hot tub - one bucket at a time - to put them out. Another hour and
about 300 gallons later, most of the little fires were out. Then the smoke
started to clear, things cooled down, and the VFD came back. To their amazement
not only was I still alive, but the house was still standing inside our
fire-protection space, minus only some trees and a few other plants.
The firemen were astounded and somewhat
sheepishly said they thought the house and I were goners. I told the VFD they
had missed all the fun. I just figured they left 'cause they knew I had it
under control. Yeah, right.
Well, the fire has burned now over 24,000
acres, cost at least 3 lives (of the bomber pilot and crew) and burned
miraculously few structures. The firemen have worked their asses off and the
professional fire crews have done a fantastic job of fighting this dangerous and
unpredictable wildfire. Many people owe their lives and homes to the valiant
efforts of dedicated people.
Here we are all OK, and had to deal with all
the little things in the aftermath, like getting water to the house, restarting
utilities and the ever-present insurance companies. The smoke smell and ash is
everywhere, and will take a lot of time to disappear.
For us, our
reward is that our home and lives are secure. Not just the actions on that
chaotic day saved the house. Most importantly, on my wife Lisaís insistence,
Kirby and I had spent most weekends of the previous two months clearing brush
around the house, inside and outside of the road that circles the structure. We
cleared most of the brush and weeds 15-20 feet on the outside of the road, as
well as everything on the inside, so there was a minimum of 30-40 feet of
defensible space around the structure. Due largely to that, lots of luck, and
some other probably spiritual forces, we still have our house and lives.