Monday, August 12, 2013

Idaho's on fire. Not in a good way.

This is just off to the east of us Boiseans:

Click for map

And that's just one. We've got a crap-TON of fires right now, but the biggies around here are the Beaver Creek Complex (34,870 acres), the Elk Fire (80,365 acres), the Lodgepole Fire (22,533 acres), and the Pony Complex (weighing in at a whopping 119,543 acres).

We now have 300+ square MILES of fires going. According to the Boise Guardian, that's equivalent to a 1 mile wide strip running from Detroit to Chicago. On fire. Towns are being evacuated. People are losing their homes, their cabins, and their favorite fishing spots. It's getting ugly.

Here in Boise, it's not a direct threat, but we're feeling it, all the same. We have a Yellow Air Quality Alert today, and it's Orange for tomorrow. Some of my coworkers have developed a constant hacking cough. (And they don't even smoke.) Here in town, the skies have been grey for a couple of days. The summer heat hasn't been as bad, though- it's been in the lower 90's, and due to the smoke, they're saying we might stay in the 80's all week. That's because wildfires, when large and hot enough, make their own weather systems. Southwest Idaho's developed its own special one: overcast and smokey, with a high probability of filth. Cars and other outdoor things develop a grime layer. The sage in it makes it greasy- it's not fun to wash your car during fire season, and you don't wanna use those windshield wipers- it just smears the crap around. Allergies go wild. Visibility sometimes gets down to a block, or less. If the wind's just right, ash falls from the sky. The sun is red both morning and night, and the sunlight is orange all day. The sky and air is grey and brown. Roses and other flowers that are red-hued look amazing- they almost appear to glow, due to the way daylight filters through the smoke. Everything looks weird. And tempers flare.

I have a theory about that. It's a primal thing.

A few years ago, when Things One and Two were little-little, we took a day trip up to Stanley, to attend a family friend's birthday party. On our way back, there was a forest fire going along the route we took. It was night time, and dark. The mountainside was aglow with pockets of fire. Trees were burning. There was a long line of cars and trucks stopped on the highway. Fire management guys (read: HEROES AND SAINTS) were driving heavy vehicles with a pusher on the front, to pilot cars and other vehicles through the worst stretches of road. The concern was that burning trees might roll down the mountain and block the road, so they were using reinforced snow-blades on heavy trucks to make sure people got out safe. It took a very, very long time to get through and away from the burned and still-burning area, a mile or two- but it might as well have been ten. It was HOT- the air was unbelievably crispy, the absolute opposite of a "crisp winter morning" kind of crispy. It was terrifying. Imagine a wall of mountain on fire to one side, a too-narrow road in front of you, and the burning mountainside rolling down and away to the other side of your vehicle- that was us, that was where my family was. I was keenly aware of the fact that my babies were in the backseat of our now very-vulnerable-feeling truck. (How had I ever thought that the truck was big and tough???) It took all that I had, just to breathe. I knew if I appeared frightened, the kids would pick up on my level of terror, so I faced front and gritted my teeth. I used my "cheerful voice" when the kids talked to me. There were cuts on my palms, when we got home, from my own fingernails.

Today, at work, the wind shifted again, but I didn't know that- I was inside, at my desk. I never actually smelled the smoke- it's pretty much a constant thing right now, so you don't notice it until it's heavy. I started to feel panic, just a little, and couldn't pin down why. Everything was fine! But when I went out to ride home, it hit me- the smell of a hundred miles of sage and forest burning down. This happens every time the smoke rolls in. Consciously thinking about it helps, but deep down, it's still there. The fear.

I have no idea how firefighters do what they do. I really don't. I curtsy to you, Brave Firefighters, one and all. You're my heroes and heroines.

While not everyone has actually driven through a burning forest, I'm thinkin' that the road rage and irrationality that I'm seeing in my fellow southern Idahoans has everything to do with the smoke- I believe that there's a "run away, Bambi!" switch that flips when the smoke rolls in. It's an animal thing, probably in the medulla oblongata, the ancient part of the brain that takes in information and screams "get OUT!" when necessary. Except we can't get out. OUT is where the fires are. (As a former forest-dweller, I can't help but find this ironic.)

I think it's why there's so much yelling going on around here at the Tractor Shop. I get scared inside. Other folks (especially men) get loud, or edgy, or angry. Or all three.

Pray for rain, folks. We need it. A LOT of it.

I'll be back soon. In the meantime, enjoy this song, and think rainy thoughts for us!


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