A Few Thoughts

Before I get into this week’s commentary I’d like to say that here in the USA today is Halloween. So as dusk approaches children will be out in their costumes going door to door saying those words that really have no meaning to them, “Trick or treat!” They know that by saying such they get a treat. And for those first timers, the really young out on their first foray into this magical night it always brings a smile when the light goes on, and suddenly with those two small words, on this one night, they can get these small gifts or treats. Watch out for them as they sometimes do not pay attention and will dart out into the streets. Let’s keep it a time of joy and magic for our young, and not a time of tragedy. And now on to the commentary:

Very few? As we get close to wrapping up this series of short stories or episodes I felt I would like to add a comment from my point of view as the author. Of course for those who have followed the series to this point know, these episodes are actually part of a book. I’m still looking for a home for the story, and have queries out. I’ll also be looking at Amazon, and #PITMAD which will be open for one day on December 4 of this year.

While all my works, or books are fiction, they do reflect our world. In this latest, Unexpected, Unplanned, and into the Unknown, I’d love to say that what we are reading is no more than fiction, and once we are finished and heading off into the real world that such doesn’t exist or happen. Unfortunately this is not the truth. We live in a world where violence is the way, and the wish for peace is great. Regional wars rage, warlords and their armies terrorize, rape, and murder, and we see much the same with the crime syndicates. Of course we can’t leave many governments, radicals, extremists, and terrorists out of this mix. It makes it appear that there is more of them, those prone to violence, than us.

Unfortunately when they destroy, many times, they create others looking for revenge, to get even for the atrocities committed against them, their families, and their homes. And in a sense who could really blame them? So it is no surprise to see Jay, and later Elsa wanting to bring heavy payback to the raiders who do this kind of thing. Tit for tat so to speak. Does such actions mean they are wrong? Does such actions mean they are right? For any of us on the outside it is easy to rationalize what we would want to do, or criticize those who face such tragedies when their actions are towards violence. And it seems it is more so (rationalization) for those who have suffered at the hands of others such as the ones stated above.

Again, as our population continues to grow on this small planet, and resources become less and less, eventually there will be fighting over what is available, and what is remaining. Since a region can only support so much, so goes a planet. And we are rapidly approaching a time when that limit will be reached. It’s not to say it will happen, as the trends appear to show a slowing of the growth.

This is one of the many reasons that writers like myself look to the far future, writing science fiction, reflecting one of the infinite futures that could lay ahead of us, which in the end may or may not become reality. In a past post I stated that the real problem we truly face isn’t the world around us, or the unknown obstacles that lie ahead, but we ourselves. We can always leave, change our location, explore space, find new worlds, but we will always be stuck with us.

Those tendencies of mankind, of cruelty, of selfishness, of hate and anger, or revenge seem prevalent. It’s not that we don’t have redeeming qualities because we do. Compassion, love, the helping of others, reaching out to strangers we’ve never met and giving all we can including our time, and many times our very lives are strong within us. It has always been a balancing act as to which side of us, as a species, will dominate. And for me I’ve always hoped it would be the side of good, of compassion, as stated here in this paragraph.

Yet, with the headlines, radio and TV, or the internet screaming terrorism, torture, murder and death, it is hard, at times, to realize that this other compassionate side exists. Still if we do not bring an end to our dark side then in the end it will not matter, because we will not be here. When we look to the universe, and its immense size, it becomes obvious there are others who have risen to intelligence on their worlds. And with the length of time that the universe has existed, again it becomes obvious that many have risen only to become extinct. We’ve seen large die offs, and extinctions here. So it is only natural to push what we’ve witnessed on our local planet, to the universe as a whole.

So as we follow Jay, Elsa, and yes even Ed, we can see our own world reflected through their eyes, through their reactions and actions. We can see the strengths and weaknesses that inhabit each and every one of us who exist now, have ever existed, and will exist in the future, until we are either no more, or have inhabited the stars. Spreading mankind’s seed to worlds throughout the milky way giving us a chance to become more than what we are presently.

Maybe to a time in the future where earth, our birth home will become no more than myth. And maybe this would be a good thing. I know from reading other sci-fi writers from the past that I’m not the only one who has looked to the far future and saw this possible outcome. Still as a writer we write our stories, and all such stories deal with the human condition. The worlds, the towns and cities, the countries, the wild lands are nothing more than the backdrops, the dressing, a simple place for these stories to be told as they have been for thousands of years.

So in a sense all of us who write fiction, who write novels, are taking from the many before us, making all of us plagiarist’s, since we are writing the same stories of adventure, love, loss, the fall of man, and his redemption from that fall. In other words our condition. And is this wrong? No. I say we need these stories to entertain, to inspire, and sometimes when the stories are dark, maybe grow. Grow beyond our infancy away from the mentality of villages – us against them. So here’s to the future – our future, and may it be great.

May there always be story tellers, weavers of myth and beauty, and yes even of our dark side. Otherwise we will end up with an old statement from our past when facing that unknown future: “There be monsters!”

* * *

Next week we begin the last of the episodes or short stories that constitute the book, Unexpected, Unplanned, and into the Unknown. In comparison to the previous episodes it is rather short (only 4 parts). Part of the reason for this is because I plan on submitting the manuscript to a publisher instead of publishing it myself as an indie author. I presently have 4 books published as an indie, which are listed on my website. Even though this one is actually the 8th book I’ve written, for it to be considered by a publisher as a”debue or first” novel the word count must be kept down. It meant that I had to shorten the story somewhat and reduce my word count by roughly 30,000 words.

Does the story suffer because of this? No, it is complete as it stands. Still by doing this I’m taking a chance that it will work. There are many areas in this story that would have had fuller explanations, more depth, and more experience for our two main protagonists. Still I am happy with the outcome and direction the story took. And I even can be satisfied with the way it ends. In some ways it begs for a sequel, a second book. And believe it or not I have actually started one. Still it is sitting on the back-burner, so to speak, as I work on another titled, A World Apart, which is a little over half way written –  this being the first draft, of course. Once this one is complete and the editing done, I will probably move back to the sequel, presently titled, The Keeper of the Knowledge.

Still, in the end, time will tell, as I have 2 additional manuscripts started besides these two mentioned in the previous paragraph. They have titles of, And the Rains Came, and, Dreams. So if nothing else I have many stories and ideas to keep me busy for years to come. Still, as I have stated a number of times, I’m in my 60’s, and some day the creative well will dry up. At least I can say, even if it took retiring, I have been able to reach and accomplish one of my dreams or goals. And I have made my original goal of writing 8 novels, so what more could one ask, other than having readers enjoying the stories? Have a great week and see you here for the first part of the final episode titled, Reconciliation. God Bless! (fdbrant.com)

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Time Travel – Really?

In the recent past I had a dream (and yes we all dream) about this very subject (Time Travel). As any who follow know, Science Fiction is one of the genres that I write, and there is a possibility that this dream could end up as a short story in the near future. As I’ve said in a past post one never knows where the inspiration for a book or short story may come from.

After that dream I remained awake for a while as my mind ran in many directions dealing with space-time. Now I’m no more than a layman and do not claim to know physics, or anything about quantum mechanics or the theories that are put forth as to the beliefs of where and what each represents. So what will be stated here will be comments by a layman – and here for you is a light-hearted thought experiment to think about. It was Einstein that put forth the theory that space was tightly tied with time, thusly the term space-time. One doesn’t exist without the other, and light being the limiting factor as how fast you can move through the universe. Yet, both theorists and the writers of Science Fiction, find ways beyond these limitations. Because of those vast distances that space presents light is too slow if one wants to leave the local neighborhood and travel beyond.

It has been proved that gravity actually deforms space-time, and has influences over it. That is why we rotate around our sun, and our sun around the Milky Way Galaxy. Because of the ability to deform space-time the theories abound in finding ways to use this to our advantage (warp drive as an example), overcoming the limitations that light restricts us to. Yet it becomes more weird when we really look at what light does (What is light really? It happens to be a wave of energy that we can see with our eyes. It is only one of the many that exist.). It is a natural time machine that those who study the universe are well aware of. So unlike H G Wells in his book, The Time Machine, there is a real and natural one that we take for granted, and that is light itself.

When we begin to look at light and the fact that it is both limited, and the limiting factor for the speed that one can travel (even though it has been proven that one cannot travel the speed of light but only up to a certain percentage.), it makes distances that one must travel in space to reach even something within our own milky way galaxy to be unattainable for any of us. We do not live long enough, and thusly why, in certain science fiction stories we hear of sleeper ships, or suspended animation, or other ways to move across the vast distances that is space. Yet, in many fictional stories we deal with time travel, or space travel, and because space and time are one it would seem that we face a paradox.

Time travel – to travel either to the future or the past is one of the many subjects that is discussed, or covered in both the scientific journals and fiction. Yet, if space-time is together we face a dilemma. First off while we feel that we live in the present, do we? Consider this; sunlight that is falling on us at this very moment has spent millions of years in the interior of the sun, and when it emerged it took 18 minutes to reach us. So are we living in the present, or the past – never able to actually catch up to the real present? Okay are you with me so far?

If what has been stated is accurate, then we know that the light from those very distant galaxies is deep in the past, simply because of the time it took for the light coming from those galaxies to reach us. So, from what we understand, when we finally reach the time where we can take advantage of the methods of space travel presented in the modern science fiction novels, will we become instead of space travelers, time travelers? After all, it has been demonstrated that that light is from the past, so any travel away from our home world would project us into the future.

And when we begin down this road of thought, it makes one wonder if space travel is even possible. After all, any movement away from your point of origin makes you a time traveler, and this begins to present so many other paradoxes to you, as that space traveler, well beyond what Einstein proved with the dilatation and compression of time itself. (Of course there are other effects that happens to one as they approach the speed of light, and that is for another post in the future.) If there are ways, through the theories presented, to avoid this aspect, then  we are still traveling either forward or backward in time simply because of the speed of light.

So after our travels, are we returning to our past, our present, or our future? Since where we are at that very moment when we begin our return trip will determine this, and so the answer to these questions would be yes. Yes to all three possibilities, and all at the same time – yes to all of the above. We will have changed our orientation and again because of what light does, what we see, where we travel, and the direction will determine which of the three it will be. Leaving you with another question; and that is this – what will your past really be? Because of your new and present orientation would that mean a different past, a different time-line?

While there have been written many a good fictional story about time travel and the consequences from such, I never considered the fact that we are natural time travelers whether we want to be or not. Light does this for us – makes us be a witness to the past every second of every day. Makes us live in the past, as far as light is concerned, even though we see it as the present. And all light that we see approaching us from space is not new but truthfully quite old, again presenting us with the past, with the future out there for any to see, if they would only travel in that particular direction – making them, and us, well, time travelers.

So I guess I can end this with the same question as the title – Time Travel, Really? Are we, or are we not? It appears that whether it is true or not comes down to your perspective, and that is personal, leaving you the one who must decide for yourself. So, once again, are we time travelers or not? And finally to all of us out here in this real world – Here’s to the future . . . ah . . . past?

And on that final note here’s, well I think we move forward, what I plan to post for next week, next Saturday, and I hope to see you here. It will be an excerpt from book 3 of the Survival series, with book 1, Time of Isolation, book 2, Desperate to Survive, and then this one, book 3, A Taste of History Past or That’s a Fine Myth You’ve Gotten Me Into. As it stands at this very moment in time (Is it the past, or is the present – good question and I really don’t have an answer.) this will be the next book released. This weekend I’m attending a funeral with my wife as we celebrate the life of one of her cousins who died much too young. And we are truly looking to his past, with the children of he and his wife representing the future. God Bless, and have a great week.

In an Emergency – Part 4

As we continue the overview of self-preparedness it is important to realize that nothing, absolutely nothing will go as planned. If it does congratulate yourself on your success, but at the same time look and see what is about to fall that will change what has worked so far. At times, it seems that once you’ve been knocked down by the fury of nature, she is not satisfied until everything is destroyed. It makes it sound like we are talking about a living, breathing, thinking entity, which we are not, but at times because of the way things go down you would swear that it is so.

We left off with food in the last post in this series, and here we will begin again at this point. In that apartment setting because of the very limitations that you face, something along the lines of MRE’s would be a simple solution. They are available almost everywhere. Unfortunately they have a shorter shelf life, but even stale it is still food. Whereas the people who live in the single dwelling homes have the ability to store more, and it would be easier to get a few months, to up to a year of the emergency supplies that generally have that 25 year shelf life. Remember, the difference between these two products are that MRE’s self heat, can be eaten immediately, and the other products do not self-heat, and require preparation.

Shelter. If the structure that you are living in becomes destroyed this will leave you exposed to the elements. So camping tents, something that is meant for the elements, allow you a way to escape to a place that is dry or out of the sun. And if nothing else those plastic tarps that most hardware stores sell can be formed into temporary shelters. Add to this sleeping bags because your bedding will not generally work for this need, and again these bags are meant for this kind of use. Extra line, extra poles, extra tent pegs all critical in this emergency supply. Again everything is finite, nothing is available, so you must do with what you have on hand. Do you have a hand axe? One that will allow you to split wood for a fire if necessary, and at the same time allow you to drive those tent pegs into the ground? If you are an avid camper, as many are, then this portion is simple. After all you face this every time you camp. If not talk with someone who is. In fact talk to more than one. Each who camp have their own ideas of what is necessary. And if they are avid campers, it won’t take much to get them to talk about it. The real problem might be in shutting them up.

Medical. You should have a complete first aid kit on hand. And you really need to keep it up to date and add to it since the ones that you purchase usually are lacking in many areas. Get a first aid handbook and be sure that it is part of that kit. If you are on serious prescription medicines make sure you will have a source available if this emergency becomes long-term. And if you have the time, take a Red Cross first aid course. Understand what you need to do to save a life. After all, even though none of us necessarily want to be in that situation, we can find ourselves there. And it is better to know what you need to do then kick yourself later because you didn’t. And if the one you could have saved dies, you will be reliving it for the rest of your life.

Now, how can I say that? Because for me, I have 2 incidents where people died, and while I could not have saved at least one of them, and the other I’ll really never know. But there was a great possibility that I was the only chance this other had. And to this day, I look back at both of those incidents and wonder if I could have made the difference and if at least one of those would be alive today. Of course there’s really no way of knowing, but that doesn’t prevent me from wondering. And in a sense, at certain times, they do come back to haunt me.

Clothing. It may or may not be something that one thinks about, but is very necessary, yet many die of exposure everyday. If you are one who must wear a suit, with the accompanying shoes, then for the job this is fine, but not for the survival situation. What you normally wear will not hold up, or protect you when you are out in the elements and under harsh conditions. So you need to consider what would be important to survive either heat or cold, and whether you’re under a monsoon, heavy thunderstorms, heat, humidity, the dry heat of the desert, or the freezing temperatures of winter. Whatever your most likely situation then the clothing you need is already known to you – have it available. Oh and footwear is critical, have a good pair of boots with a non-slip sole.

Sanitation. Remember that many die because of the diseases caused by improper sanitation. And women out there remember to include a good supply of what you need for your monthly cycle. It is something that is easy to forget about until it arrives. And this must be disposed of in a trash bag and not flushed. If you are fortunate enough to have 2 toilets and both are still functioning then one should be used strictly for liquid, and emptied occasionally, while the second for solid waste and emptied each time, using water that you have from your bathtub that was filled before the disaster for this purpose. And of course, be sure to have a bucket on hand so that you can use only the amount of water necessary to flush the toilet. This isn’t pretty, nor does it smell nice, but it works. And if broken and unusable there are relative cheap portable solutions available for your kit.

And you will find that getting your cooking equipment clean and sanitary is a problem also. Think about using paper plates and bowls with plastic forks and spoons, with a specific area with trash bags designated for specific garbage. While this may not seem to be good for the environment, it still allows you to help keep the diseases away caused by improper sanitation and disposal of trash. We talked briefly about water availability and when we consider the need to clean those pots and pans after cooking a meal, for health reasons they need to be cleaned. Use as little of the water as possible and you will find that many times the wash and rinse water can be used more than once. Be careful and err on the side of caution. Getting sick during such a time is a fast way to getting yourself into trouble.

Remember that these emergencies can strike without any warning. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be nature that unleashes her fury. It could be an industrial disaster, terrorist attack, civil unrest, and so many other unanticipated events that can leave us homeless for a period of time. Any of these mentioned can be devastating and if unprepared, in danger of dying. None of us can be prepared for everything, but by being somewhat prepared it will leave you with a better chance to survive than the one who isn’t. And there is nothing wrong with going out and assisting wherever you are needed. It is during these times that there are many unknown heroes who are out doing all they can to assist those in need.

But, to be able to do this, you must first save yourself, your family – otherwise you cannot join the many who are out there trying to make a difference. And once the situation changes, the emergency is over, and everything returns to a semblance of normal, they, the ones who assisted, return to their lives satisfied with what they accomplished, not looking for praise, or recognition for where they helped. After all, it is enough that they were there.

I mentioned in an earlier post that while this disaster that fell upon you caused you hardship, it seems that once the immediate danger is over that the local politicians come out, set up town hall meetings, answer questions, and promise everything that is asked. Then, at a later time, when you try a pin them down to those promises it like talking to a brick wall. Many, including myself believed these empty promises and found that they weren’t going to honor any of them. And once we had to face the county administration everything that we tried to do was refused. Then this same county board of supervisors passed regulations further restricting what the ones who lived in the backcountry could do with their properties. Restricting it to the point that one could own land in the backcountry, but could do no more than that other than to pay the taxes on that unusable land.

Remember that the American people are a generous people, and when something major happens – the donations, the assistance, and the outpouring is overwhelming. It can leave you, as a victim of the disaster, humble. Realizing that strangers that you will never meet, and have no knowledge of you personally, have given all they can to help. So while there can be much negativity during such a disaster, there is still that positive outpouring that keeps us believing in our fellow-man.

So, in conclusion let’s go over once again what we are looking at for one’s personal survival. As always it is the same for your everyday life. Food, water, shelter, medical, communication, protection, a working plan with alternative ideas, and in all cases using the KISS principle. After all too complicated invites failure. And you will see enough of that happening with what you’ve planned anyway. And finally, remember that these events do not usually happen when you expect it and Murphy will always play a big role in the outcome.

Good luck with your own emergency planning, and do not put it off because something else seems to have more importance at that particular moment. Because procrastination can lead to failure. And failure here could mean your death. I don’t know about you personally, but I choose life if I have the option. In most scenarios the cities do create evacuation centers for the ones most affected by these events. But, again, one cannot necessarily count on this, or being able to reach one of these shelters. So in the end, it is better to be prepared and self-sufficient then find yourself in an untenable situation.

The earlier posts on this subject can be found in the sidebar under April 2014.

 

In an Emergency – Part 3

Again what I’m writing here is a personal view on the subject. Partly because I’ve lived through a natural disaster and do understand what must be faced, and also I had a number of failures within this disaster that allowed me to look back on what was done wrong.

Before I get into what I think is important to have on hand I want to talk briefly about attitude. This is a tough one because the wrong attitude can lead to mistakes, not that you won’t make many anyway, but the types of mistakes that can really change the outcome of your circumstances. If your attitude is such that you expect assistance, then you have a greater chance of failing. When nature unleases her fury, there’s nothing humanly possible one can do but ride it out and hope for the best. And as stated earlier – if it is your time, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change it.

Here is an overview of what transpired in our situation. Before this fire approached we were preparing to defend the property. After all, we were confident that with the clearing we had done in the past that we would be successful – wrong. We weren’t and because of the intensity of this fire everything was lost. Lesson 1: Do not become overconfident because of your preparation for such an event. If you are, then some of the things you should or must do will not be accomplished and you will pay the price for this overconfidence. Fortunately for us it was loss of property and not life.

Here we were positive, because of the work that had been done before hand, that the planned defense would work, our homes would be standing and the fire would pass us by. Sure it would get crazy for a short period of time, and we’d be uncomfortable, but in the end, we would be able to congratulate ourselves on our successful defense. This meant that items that should have been removed from those homes were not, and when we could not defend as planned these items were lost forever. And one of those critical items was our emergency kit.

I’ve found that this same attitude of over-confidence can easily exist within the volunteer search and rescue teams and the individuals who make it up. They feel, because of their experience, their training, and the exercises that they run that they can tackle anything, any emergency, any situation and will come out whole. This attitude creates a blind spot that allows them to place themselves into situations where they do not have the expertise. And by not having the expertise find themselves in trouble because what should have been recognized as critical and dangerous was not.

Okay, lets look around our home for a moment and see what works now, and what will not be functioning during an extended emergency. Electricity, water, sewage, cook stove, building buttoned up against the elements, lighting, heating, cooling, communications through either the media, telephone, or internet and so many things we don’t ever think about because they are always there and as a result we take all for granted. Yet, if the disaster is big enough absolutely none of this is guaranteed. In this mix we can add security since the law enforcement that patrols the area and keeps crime down by their presence will, most likely, in such a scenario, not be available for any assistance at all.

And if you’ve never lived without these modern conveniences then you are in for a shock. So it is important to take each and every aspect of what you see and find out exactly what you need, and what can be ignored. Use the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle. After all, the more complicated one makes it the more chances for failure. And have a contact out of the area so that once you are able to make contact once again, they can relay the information on to all who are concerned.

Okay, lets begin, and for you pacifists out there you will not like this one: Protection, plain and simple. There will be no one to call, no one to be able to come over and take away the bad guy who happens to want what you have. There was a Twilight Zone episode that in its way reflected this very issue showing how quickly society breaks down and the resulting chaos that ensues. So get a weapon of some kind, and learn how to use it. For those who aren’t very good or accurate, then I recommend a shotgun. Not many are going to argue against one. And most of us, including me, hope never to be in a situation where such a thing is needed, but if faced with it, then you had better be prepared. And, of course, be sure that you have plenty of ammunition, cleaning equipment, and such for your weapon of choice. After all you cannot go down to your sporting goods store after the fact and get what you need. And if you are uncomfortable with these weapons get a gun safe or something similar where they can be locked up until needed. Remember that when society breaks down chaos and anarchy reigns supreme. And until order is restored – good or bad – the strong will control, and survive.

Now that we’ve begun to think in the direction of survival, what would be next on our list? Food and water, and the latter would be more critical than the former because you can live longer without food. So a couple of ideas for water comes immediately to mind. First off having bottled water stored somewhere in your home is a start. But if this becomes a long term event, eventually you will run out of this source. So having a way to purify that water to make it safe is just as important. There are a number of products on the market that can fill this need. But there are other ways that can work if necessary. Examples would be boiling all of your water, or setting up a simple filtration system like what nature uses. There’s a few videos that shows how to construct and use such on the internet, and I believe, available on YouTube.

But, if your stove is down, how are you going to boil your water, let alone cook your food? Hmm, a problem for sure. That means a part of your home emergency kit must include a portable cook stove, like is used for camping. I recommend one that uses white gas or camp fuel and not the ones that use those small propane bottles. It’s so much easier to keep a few gallons of the fuel on hand then trying to store numerous bottles of propane. And while on the subject of fuels, add some kerosene – good as a fuel for those kerosene or oil lanterns to provide light. You’ve all seen them used in those old westerns, although do not expect the amount of light seen there. And, of course, that same fuel, white gas, can be used in what I’ve always known as Coleman lanterns. (Be sure to have lots of extra wicks.) Oh yes, be sure to have a funnel, it reduces spillage. Critical information here: Remember that all of these units produce carbon monoxide, so ventilate properly. Plus we are dealing with fire here, so an extinguisher would be as important, as well as placing these items in areas where they will not get knocked over. Oh yes, do not mix up the fuels as this could lead to a spectacular failure.

And I can say, other than camping, that I’ve had quite a bit of experience using the above mentioned items. As has been stated, I was raised in the backcountry on a small ranch. We had part-time power, no phone, and used wind to pump our water. There was a period of time where we had no power because the generator died, and for a couple of years we used those Coleman and kerosene lanterns for light at night. No forced air heating in that poorly built and poorly insulated home, we heated by a wood stove. And after everyone was in bed, a couple of the kerosene lanterns were left burning to allow any to walk through the house without killing one’s self. One was placed in the bathtub and the second on the kitchen table. Between the 2 they provided enough light to be able to make that trip to the bathroom if it became necessary.

As far as your food consider something that has already been created for this purpose. There’s been a lot of work that has gone into the preparation of these emergency supplies including up to a 25 year shelf life. Again, where you are living at the time could have an impact on what you keep and store for such emergencies. Here I’m referring to your actual residence. If, for example, you live in an apartment, your needs and space available will be somewhat different than the one who lives in the country with acreage. And this is why what I’m writing in this series of posts is more of an overview than getting into lists of what is required. Again, there is much out there that you can find and use to get those answers. It is important to keep yourself educated, and truthfully until you ride out such a disaster you will never know if you have it right.

As we will move on to part four I will continue to cover what I see as important – so until next time, please read and reread what is here so that you can gain an understanding, an attitude, so that you always are looking at what may be necessary. It can easily become a habit that sits in your subconscious mind always seeing the many possibilities that are available, so many things that can help you survive a disaster. You will find, in the end, that it takes little to keep one comfortable, and feeling safe. You learn that while all those modern conveniences are nice, they are not necessary to live or to stay alive.

Again in the side bar April 2014 will have the complete 4 part series in the near future. So if you missed parts 1 and 2 it is there presently. And next week wraps up this series on surviving a disaster. I hope that what I’m presenting will never be needed, but if so, that it is helpful in your personal preparation.

In an Emergency – Part 2

Remember, as we go through this subject in this series that it will be more of an overview, thoughts on the subject, and personal experience. Because each of us live in a different place, face different disasters, and have different needs, what you can or should put together and have available, will differ. Overall the purpose of this series is to get you to think about your personal survival, your situation, and the factors that will give you the best chance to ride out whatever disaster you are facing. If you have no experience, then look to the available resources, which could include public information from such places as the Office of Emergency Services, libraries, the internet, and even your local volunteer search and rescue.

As we look at a possibility of such a thing happening it is important, even critical to remember that everything that you will be working with is finite. You will be limited to what you have on hand, or what you have cached. While, many times after a disaster, supplies become available and believe me it’s nice when they do, you cannot necessarily count on that happening. And because of our ability to rely on the supposedly infinite availability of goods and services it is difficult to realize that these will not be available at all. In other words, you cannot go down to that local store and purchase something that you need or have forgotten once that disaster has happened.

So immediately one must change their mindset and really look at what they have, and if what they have is adequate for their needs. And needs is the critical word here. Wants to do not apply. Mindset or attitude is probably one of the most important aspects of all of this. This includes before, in your preparation, during, when the event is happening, and after, how you respond to your own personal recovery. And you must not expect police, fire, and rescue to be there for you. Everything must be covered by you personally – and this means everything.

In such an emergency you must realize that if you must abandon where you are, or happen to be away from your home that the roads will not handle the traffic, even if they were undamaged by the event. These roads were never constructed with the idea that they could handle every family, and every vehicle within a short period of time. So one must have more than one way to move, other than the known or lesser known arteries. And at all times, we must be looking at the basics, the very things that will allow us to survive this disaster. Unfortunately even with the best planning it can be for naught if you become one of the victims. All the planning in the world will not change anything if it is your time.

An example of this is what happened in one of those large wildfires in the west. In this particular disaster the fire was at many homes before the owners realized that it was even close. In the backcountry a family began their run in their personal vehicles down one of the many backcountry single lane roads with the father leading and the mother and part of the family following. Again, because of the rapidity of the spread of this particular fire there had been no warning. So they were driving through areas where the was fire burning – but what else could they do? And while there was never much separation between the vehicles, he made it out safely, and the rest of the family perished.

We need to look at what is required to survive. Yet, at the same time we have to remember that there are others who have gone through the very same disaster, didn’t plan for it, expected immediate rescue and support, and when none of this arrived, have nothing. In those desperate situations, when life is on the line, the ones who didn’t do what was necessary, will be out scavenging, and many could care less where they get what they need. And with law enforcement overwhelmed, the ones who have always worked in the shadows will be out to steal whatever they can, and if it means they hurt or kill someone – so what.

Survival can bring out either the best in people, or the worst. So in these situations you can only trust yourself, your family, and whoever else you’ve included in your group. Consider them your tribe, if nothing else. And until order is restored it can be just as it was in our primitive past. One tribe against another. You rarely hear it in the news, and because of how we live, we do not expect it, but look at any place in the world where refugees are common. Really look at what’s going on, and you can see that behind what is being reported is this dark side of all of us. After all, if I am to live one more day, and it requires that I steal to do it, taking that chance away from another – so be it. At least that seems to be the attitude for many. Remember, when society breaks down it leaves the strongest behind. And just because they are the strongest, doesn’t guarantee that they are good people. Generally most are good people only wanting to help, but ask anybody who has survived a disaster and see how many tell you of the flim-flammers and such that came into their communities to sell a false bill of goods. When a disaster strikes the predators will soon arrive.

Remember that there’s no guarantee that what you’ve put away for emergencies will be available to you when that disaster strikes. In our case we had emergency supplies saved, had just finished a shop for groceries and necessities that previous Friday to the tune of over $300, and lost every item to the fire. So even preparation, the  planning, and believing one is ready, is no guarantee that it will work the way you have planned. Still it is better to have a plan in place than to go willy-nilly about running in circles yelling “woe is me”. Because, if nothing else, by having that mindset you are still better prepared than the ones who believe that it will never happen.

So as we look at this overview of what is possible, what will not be available, and how one should act, react, and prepare, I’ll continue next time on what I believe is necessary. This again is a personal view, and with all that is out there covering this subject there will be other views, admonitions, requirements, and suggestions. For each of us it is important to look over much of what is available on the subject, look at your own particular situation, and work from there. There are no perfect solutions or answers to any of this, and you must be prepared to change your direction, your plans in a moment of time.  Because when such a thing strikes, it’s never as assumed. And do not count on what is being broadcast to be accurate or timely, because it is usually filled with misinformation, misdirection, and inaccuracies that could lead you to personal disaster. Yes, it’s important to listen, but using what is heard for an overview of the situation and that’s all.

We become used to the facts we are given by our media, but it is important to remember that most of the time in these situations they know no more than you. And because of the situation they are making it up as they go, just as you are. Unfortunately because of this, rumors, innuendos, false information, and other inconsistencies, are passed out as fact. And what is relayed changes by the minute. To be honest and I repeat myself, they really don’t know any more than you do and are grabbing at anything themselves. And because they have the airwaves all this bad information reaches far too many.

For any who are picking up this series look to the month of April 2014 in the side bar. There, the series will complete by the end of the month, and be available.

In an Emergency – Part 1

What is written below, and in the continuing posts are personal observations and thoughts on this subject. These posts are dealing with major events and not the daily small emergencies that we all face. Personally I have lived through one such emergency or disaster and the resulting chaos.

Where will you be? Now that is usually the question that is asked, but why, since we never plan to be involved in one – a disaster that is. So why would we even know where we might be at that very moment? When they do happen Murphy usually has a great influence over the circumstances and where we might actually be. And even if you have that home emergency kit all set to go, if you happen to be at work, or miles from home what good does it do you? And if you truly think about it, we spend equal to more hours away from home than we do at home. And we can add to this the costs involved in setting up an emergency kit, and necessary supplies. So it can leave us with the question – why should I invest the time, effort, and money, when there are equal odds that I may not be close to where my emergency supplies are located or find that I never have need of such?

For most of us money is an issue and even though it is something that all of us should have (an emergency kit), for most, me included, it is a luxury that one cannot afford. Still it is important to have one. Although, like my protagonist in the book, The Woman in the Snow, I have made sure that my wife has a 3 day supply of emergency goods in her vehicle. That way if something happened that kept her separated from home then she would have enough supplies to cover a minimum of 3 days. And speaking of 3 days, just where did that often quoted, ones in the know always seem to use, arrive at that number? I know from personal experience that 3 days is rarely enough unless it is a minor emergency such as a storm that has come in and knocked out power. But if it is worse than this then 3 days can barely touch what is necessary to survive.

In a real true emergency it can be weeks, and even months before things return to a semblance of normal. And while much of what is suggested for your kits are great, I have a tendency to shake my head at some of those suggestions. It becomes obvious to me that we are dealing with people who have lived in the city all their lives and haven’t a clue to what is necessary to actually survive off the grid. And in a sense that’s exactly what you are doing when the infrastructure collapses because of an event. While it is important, if it is possible, to count on the help of others, you cannot expect or anticipate that it will be that way and thusly you must plan with this scenario in mind. In other words, look at this from the perspective that you must depend on yourself alone.

There are assumptions made that are based in fiction, and expectations that just don’t happen when the event causes major damage. For the very short-term yes – long-term no. So when you begin to put together your emergency kit (and just because you have one doesn’t mean that you won’t lose it before using it) you must think about needs, protection, temporary shelter, sanitation, medical care if necessary, food, water, and some type of plan so that your family knows where to go, and where to meet. And on this last point, alternate points if the primary one is unavailable. You also need a way to communicate, and here you can forget about your cell phones. They will be no more than dead weight.

Most believe that cell phones use the airwaves to keep those lines open. While this is partially true, most cell towers also use landlines to keep those conversations moving. And, of course, those cell towers require power to operate. And if we are dealing with a major event, power is usually gone as well as the landlines. So you need something like those handi-talkies, or some other device that doesn’t require the existing infrastructure to operate. And they should have multiple channel choices, again with specific channels marked for your family to use. And here multiple is the key. Because you will not be the only one using these things. And it is surprising how often that the channel you have selected turns out to be the one most used by others. I don’t understand how this works, but it just does. So having more than one set of channels preselected is critical.

To understand the importance of what I just stated I can give you a personal example. Where we used to live wildfires were a problem. And in one of those years of severe fire danger we were burned out. We had to abandon the property, and with what we could carry in our vehicles we left when it became obvious we could not defend what we owned. We had decided on a meeting place if we were separated. Now on this property we had multiple families, all related, living in 3 homes. In my immediate family we were driving 4 vehicles, while there were numerous vehicles for the others. We were the only ones with the handi-talkies.

Again, because of the area of this disaster, once out of the area where we lived we ran into gridlock from people evacuating. This separated the caravan and it was only through these devices that we were able to keep in touch. The first area chosen to meet and get all of us back together failed miserably. In fact the other 2 families were separated from us and from that point on we never saw them again until after the event back on the property where all was a total loss. With those handi-talkies we were able to communicate and set up alternate areas to meet eventually bringing us together. Without them it probably would have been days before we found each other.

Once we were able to return to the property it was there we found the rest of the family and learned what had transpired after all of us had left and then became separated. Now, one of the many points being made here is time, as well as the importance of communication. First off, it was months before power was restored. Shelter for the families was tents and camp trailers. And with the damage done we had to reestablish water, and use generators to pump that water. Over time we had to replace water tanks, run new pipeline, and power lines underground. In other words, before any new building went up all the infrastructure had to be rebuilt. So a 3 day supply of anything, while helpful, actually fell pitifully short of what one truly needs. This is not to say that after a period of time had passed that some of what is required did not become available because it did. But it was well after that 3 day period that is stated so often. So when you look at what you plan be on the pessimistic side. Which simply stated means: Plan for the long-term and hope for the short-term.

And when I continue this in part 2, and further on in the additional posts on this subject, I’ll look at what I’ve found to be important, and to understand that your local politicians will promise you everything during your attempt to recover, but will not actually come through with any of those promises. And if you do not believe this, ask any who have been through such a disaster, and you will find that the most difficult times were the recovery and dealing with either the city or county administration. Basically all of us who had lost everything found it almost impossible to deal with the bureaucracy, and for those that had insurance, more than one were screwed over by those companies, no matter what their commercials may say.

A Slice of Life, Part 5

DSC00994

The photo above is not from the Pine Hills fire of 1967 but an image from the Cedar Fire of 2003. Like the 1967 fire it was pushed by Santa Ana winds. Photo taken by a friend G Kochel.

With the plan in place we, with many other engines set up along the dirt road, this time we faced our engine away from the station and back out towards the highway. While the distance was a few miles the thought was that it would be a safer escape route than retreating back to the Pine Hills Ranger Station. The engine was parked as close to the shoulder as possible to allow other smaller units the ability to drive around. The land continued to fall away to the west before leveling somewhat. No matter how you looked at it, it was tight on that dirt road. There were a couple of engines that were set up towards the ranger station, facing that way, and within sight others towards the highway. I truly have no idea how many were involved with this dangerous situation, but it was a desperate attempt to keep the fire contained, which up to this time all past attempts to confine the fire had failed. Still we had that anchor point that provided some safety and that road. Again, our planned escape route was towards the highway, with a secondary safety zone as the ranger station. All of us hoped that we would have no need of the safety zones, and we would stop the fire here.

It was late afternoon when the plan was initiated, with dusk a short time off. Where we were located was on the south edge of the burn from the spot fire that we had extinguished earlier that same day. Within this burn was an old snag – a widow maker as these dead trees were also known. Somehow it had escaped burning when the spot fire made its run down to the road. Equipment continued to pour in and our ranks swelled. While at the point where we were hotshot crews began the trek along the edge of this existing burn, and soon a caterpillar also headed up to assist the hotshot crews. By the time all of the hand crews and heavy equipment had moved up the heavily wooded hill into the burn and out of sight it was dark. After a while we could no longer hear this equipment, nor did we have a clue how far up the hill they had progressed or whether they had progressed pass the burn. Again rumors of trouble for the hotshots and dozer came down to us. Whether in fact this was true I never learned, since shortly we would have our own hands full.

Where we sat was close to a sharp curve that ran towards the highway and we could only see 1 engine in that direction. Back towards the ranger station we could see the 2 other engines that covered the distance all the way back and out to that meadow. Their purpose to control any fire that got past the anchor point, knowing that while the meadow could sustain a fire, it wouldn’t sustain one for very long. The winds were roaring and we could see the trees bending in the winds. All the equipment had spot lights burning allowing us to see the surrounding trees. Still at the same time the lights created islands of deep shadow where the light didn’t penetrate. Giving us, at times, a ghostly view of the branches and trees as they bent and moved into and out of the light and shadows, because of these strong winds.

Because we were unable to truly know what was taking place up that hillside where the hand crews and tractor were located it left us with both worry for them, and anticipation for what we knew we were about to face. Still the night moved on, and nothing – just the roar of the wind with the stronger gusts pushing us around. Humidities were extremely low, and it was a warm night, with the winds responsible for both the warmth and the low humidities. Word would come down now and then that it wouldn’t be long so be prepared – as if we weren’t. As I stated at the close of part 4, I was expecting a similar fight when we attacked the spot fire and was confident that with the additional equipment that we would keep the fire confined and stop it here. Again we were dealing with 1 of the situations that shout watch out – “You are making a frontal attack on a fire.”

Other than the trucks idling and the wind blowing through the trees it was quiet. No real conversation, we, all of us, were concentrating on the areas where we expected the head of the fire to come from. The first warning we had wasn’t the actual fire. It was full dark, other than the lights of the equipment, with pumps engaged, there was only darkness. The smoke generated from the fire covered the night sky not allowing any light from the stars to get through. So dark in fact that one wouldn’t have been able to see their hands in front of their face if it wasn’t for our own artificial lights including headlamps that were attached to our hard hats. It began raining, and it was beautiful. I suspect that it was doing this to a lesser degree earlier in the day during the daylight, but because of the daylight was invisible to us. What I’m speaking of here is not water but burning embers. We were being showered heavily with them and their orange glow against the night sky were spectacular, but very dangerous.

Immediately, as these embers began to land, we were seeing spot fires start in a number of places. We desperately fought these new fires,rapidly running to each new start and extinguishing it, only to have new ones start immediately. We couldn’t keep up with all the new spot fires. The spot fires began to combine creating a number of larger fires across our line and making it difficult to control. These larger fires began to combine increasing the pressure on us to stop the fire’s spread. Then the main fire made it run on us. In a very short time we were caught between two fires and all the equipment had to abandon the attempt. The fire had won and hardly slowed down. Now across our line the whole area was beginning to burn. No longer was any light needed as the fire provided all that was necessary.

We were informed by radio that the fire had already jumped the line in the direction of the highway – the very direction that we were to leave in an emergency. This meant that it was no longer safe to head out towards our safety zone. This left heading back towards the station. The only problem with this was again that road. It was single lane and wasn’t really wide enough to turn around a fire truck, but we had no choice in the matter. Turn it around or take the risk of being burned if we traveled in the original direction. (It’s not that we never drove down roads that were surrounded by fire. It is something that as a wildland firefighter you face quite often. Many times it is necessary to be able to reach your point of attack, or to move on when a stand failed.)

For safety (right), I was required to act as a guide to be sure that as the engine backed in the maneuvers necessary to turn around that the driver did not drive off the dirt road and become stuck. The process was slow as there wasn’t much distance to work with. The fire didn’t care as all the fuels – brush, grasses and trees began to burn. We sat in an island of no fire with absolutely everything else burning. I have to admit that while a dangerous serious situation for us, at the same time, it was beautiful. With all that was happening there was no time for fear to creep in. All concentration was on getting that engine turned around and facing back towards the ranger station. Eventually once successful the driver signaled that all of us was to enter the cab, no matter how cramped. Since I was the one directing the turn around I was the last to enter the cab. (One last point here. In a sense a fire is a living thing.  It requires oxygen to sustain itself, so it is using great quantities of air to maintain itself. This means that there will be pockets of air that will have none.  If you drive through these pockets it can kill your engine. The way to avoid this danger is to keep your vehicle in a lower gear having the engine run at higher rpm’s, giving time for you to pass through these pockets and not have the engine die.)

As I entered the cab we could feel the heat all the way through the closed doors. The whole area now in flames and as the driver drove us out we had fire flashing over the hood and if any of us had been in the crew area that was out in the open we would have been burned severely as the fire rolled over the truck. With the motor revving he was able to get us out and beyond the danger, out into the clear to that same meadow that we had stopped briefly when we first arrived earlier that same day. Since there was little to nothing that we could do we watched as the fire raged on and away from where we had attempted to make our stand barely slowing the forward progress. The following day the winds began to slow with the westerly influence beginning to  return, and without those winds the fire was stopped. That night when the fire rolled over us, beaten and tired we entered the fire camp now set up at the station. And as we ate our meals and tried to get some rest we could see the fire burning to the west backing into that wind consuming everything it touched.

If you are picking this up at part 5, parts 1 thru 3 are under August 2013, with parts 4, and of course part 5 are listed under September 2013. If there happens to be anything here that wasn’t understood, please let me know and I’ll attempt to define or explain it further. Many of the earlier parts have links that takes you to fuller explanations.

Published in: on September 28, 2013 at 8:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Slice of Life, Part 4

Eventually, the spot fire that began to travel across that overgrazed meadow was blown out by the winds. It became obvious that this would not be the only spot fire we would be facing and shortly we could see smoke rising to the north and east of us signaling another spot fire. This one did not have the disadvantage of the previous spot fire that had attempted to spread across that meadow. This one was in prime burning fuels. The captain decided that we needed to hold this new fire at the road east of the station if at all possible. It was a line drawn that stated we were not going to allow the fire to burn any further than this road. Fortunately, up to this time, this fire and the resulting spot fires were burning in unpopulated areas. If this fire or any of the spot fires managed to jump this dirt road, then there were miles of open unbroken forest for it to burn before reaching populated areas. Yet, with these winds it wouldn’t take a fire like this to travel those miles in a very short span of time. (An example of what I’m describing here is a fire that began 5 years later in the Laguna Mountains which became known as the Laguna fire. At the time it was the largest fire in California history at 186,000 acres. Since then there has been a number of fires that were significantly larger. The Laguna Mountains are at least 45 miles inland from the coast and in the 5 days of active burning it burned all the way to the coast.)

We had that old burn from 11 years prior to the west, and the regrowth was still light, and if we lost it here then it was hoped that these lighter fuels would allow us to stop the wildfire.  Like I stated this fire was heading into the area where the Inaja fire had burned 11 years earlier and again if one had followed the links to that tragedy it was where firefighters lost their lives. (If one missed that link I will place it here once again: http://www.coloradofirecamp.com/cedar_fire/inaja_fire_introduction.htm) In any extreme situation as this, it is easy for things to go from what appears to be a relatively safe operation to everything going to hell in seconds. When you are overrun you must react immediately and your decision and direction you choose can mean the difference between survival or death. It is one of the reasons for determining safe zones and being aware of their locations, but sometimes even these areas can turn out to be death traps. Also since the time that I fought these wildfires there has been additional safety equipment available to firefighters and this is the deployable fire tent meant to give the firefighters a chance to survive a blowup. As has been shown with the deaths in Colorado in the near past, these tents do not necessarily mean survival but it is better than what we had which was nothing.

One of the problems that we faced was that dirt road. It was a manmade barrier, but the distance across to other fuels wasn’t great. So while it was a barrier it wasn’t a strong one. If we could stop this growing spot fire from crossing the road then this would provide an anchor point from which to work when the main fire approached this location. Still before that possibility could happen, this one had to be stopped. We positioned the engine facing back towards the Ranger Station giving us our escape route if we failed in our attempt to stop the spot fire. By this time we had other engines arriving with many heading in to where the main fire was advancing. We, with a second unit, became the forward position dealing with those additional spot fires and as time moved on we added a couple of other engines to help make our stand. In retrospect one realizes that with at least 2 major fires burning in the region that manpower and equipment became a premium until additional men and equipment could be brought in from outside of areas where these fires burned.

As is the way it goes in most desperate situations, there was a period of idleness as we prepared for the spot fire’s arrival. Again for safety we remained on the dirt road and did not advance towards the spot fire through the “green” as it is called. Simply this means that if you are going through vegetation to reach your fire you are leaving yourself vulnerable to the fire, so it is something one tries to avoid. After all the goal is to stop the fire, not get yourself injured or killed. To keep us as mobile as possible, even though as a class 1 engine or pumper, once the pump is engaged it becomes immobile, we only pulled our hard lines. If we were unable to prevent this spot fire from crossing this manmade barrier then we would need to vacate the area as quickly as possible.

When fighting an active fires such as this, time really means very little. You have the time of waiting, and the time that you are actually engaged with the fire, with a second by second adjustment in your methods of attack as the fire advances on you. It has been stated that when you first arrive on a major wildfire that the only thing initially organized is the fire. Even though this spot fire wasn’t as large as the original fire it had the potential to become that way and for us it was a desperate fight as we had fire burning down from the hillside towards us, pushed by the same Santa Ana winds and a number of spot fires starting to burn across our line being generated from this spot fire. The hours flew by and at one point an ember blew up under my hard-hat and burned me on the top of the head – it hurt! But I couldn’t take it off since that would expose me to more of the same.

We could feel the intense heat, and the roar, from the spot fire, which now covered many acres (On the final major fire that I fought in 1975 we had to protect an honor camp which was in the direct line of the fire, again pushed by these same winds. When it went by us it sounded like a freight train passing by.), as it approached our position and after a desperate struggle from all who was involved we were able to extinguish it. We remained here for a while to insure that there wasn’t a rekindle, did an initial mop up operation, and eventually when it was determined that we had stopped this advance headed back to the station to refill our tank. Pine Hills station became the fire camp location as things became organized. While it was ahead of the fire it was felt that with the success of the spot fire being extinguished and the failure of the other spot fire to travel across that meadow, it was a safe location. Also it appeared that once the main fire approached this location that there was a good chance that it would burn to the east of the fire camp.

The word came down late in the day that with the successes earlier that we and other units would again make a stand using the burned area from the spot fire as an anchor point and attempt to hold the original fire there. If one had followed the links back from part 1, it covered “situations that shout watch out”, and here was one of those, “You are making a frontal attack on a fire.”, which was exactly what we would be doing. Most of this work would be done by the engines, although with the anchor point set the plan was also to start moving hotshot crews up along the edge of the burn and try to establish a working fire line, attempting to establish another break to force the fire to remain to the east and south and keep it from spreading to the north, and hopefully slow its spread to the west.

And as we move on to part 5 and the final part I found myself back at the waiting game with rumors of the fire situation flying all around me. And if I had thought that the fight we had fought against that spot fire was difficult, I learned that it was nothing in comparison to the main fire. Here I provide the link back to part 3 which has the links to parts 1 and 2: https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/a-slice-of-life-part-3/

A Slice of Life, Part 3

Again, if you had followed the links in the previous post it talks about indices which are predictive tools for a fire’s potential. It is based on taking the weather from certain stations on a ranger district. You have a minimum – maximum temperature, dry bulb – wet bulb measurements, which determines relative humidity, wind speed and direction, and fuel stick weight. With the provided conversion charts, you report this to the dispatcher. Today this is done automatically, in my day it was a manual operation. Probably most of these operations would be familiar to most out there except the fuel stick. The purpose of the fuel stick is to determine moisture content in the dead fuels. It has a certain weight when perfectly dry for which the scale is adjusted to a zero point. Then as it absorbs moisture the weight changes which converts into fuel moisture content. At that time and presently all these figures give you the 3 indices that predict a wildfire’s possible rate of spread, intensity, and its potential.

We headed east of the station before turning north on Hwy 79 that would take us close to the fire origin. Suddenly the engine pulled over before we reached a point where doing this maneuver would be impossible for many miles. For the brief time that we were stopped I asked what was going on. I was informed that there had been a report of another fire and we were being turned around to attack the new fire. This one was on our district. Part of the problem we now faced was that two-lane blacktop road that had been closed because of the winds. This meant that we had to travel this dangerous section of road. Fortunately we were the only ones on it. I say fortunately because the winds were so strong that the engineer or driver could not keep that heavy engine in his lane as we responded. We were continually pushed deep into the eastbound lane as we headed west.

Eventually we passed through the most dangerous section of the road dropping down in altitude rounding a curve where the mountain that the road had been built blocked our views to the north. Once the mountain fell away we saw what had been reported, and I have to admit that in all the years that I fought wildfires, this was the only time I witnessed this phenomena. On major wildfires there is what is called a defined convection column that rises high into the atmosphere. If one was to look at these columns of smoke they would appear to weather radar as a thunderhead or a developing thunderstorm. In fact it is not uncommon for thunderheads to develop on top of these columns of smoke. So the expectation was to see just that. But this was not what we witnessed. The smoke column wasn’t rising into the sky as normal but being funneled down the canyon, the winds were so strong that the smoke couldn’t climb into the sky, and like a chimney was being drawn westerly through that major canyon complex. To the ones who lived in the area where this phenomena was taking place it gave the appearance of another fire.

It was reported to the dispatcher that fortunately we did not have a new fire. We were then turned around and headed for the original fire. Again we faced those wicked winds as we wound our way back up the mountainside along that section of closed roads still having difficulty staying on the road, let along in our own lane. Eventually we left that road and retraced our route that we had begun before being turned around. Again this wasn’t an easy drive since this was a winding twisting road leading one deep into the national forest. Again the winds affected the engine and the driver had difficulty keeping it on the roadway. Eventually we turned off of this main road through the forest onto a side road and began our drive towards the actual fire location. The road was only blacktop for a short distance and then became the standard backcountry, forest dirt road that only one vehicle could drive at a time. If one met another then a pullout would have to be located so that one could safely pass another.

As we had climbed in altitude the winds had become stronger, and were roaring with an intensity drowning out any other sounds that may have existed. Because we were now on dirt we had to slow considerably, not that these engines were fast by any means. Still once one started down one of these dirt roads speed was the last thing one could obtain if one wanted to reach their destination safely. At this point we were on the south side of the mountain with the fire on the north side of the same range. Because of our proximity to the mountain nothing of the fire or its potential was visible to us. Eventually we turned to the north side and was struck by a stronger wind that had been partially blocked from us by the ridge. We now sat above looking down into the general area of the fire and could see the smoke boiling. Here the captain or station foreman had the engine stop to get an overview of what was happening. For me I was looking forward to the fight that would be ahead of us shortly.

After looking it over the captain reported to the dispatcher what he was seeing and we then proceeded on down the road to the Pine Hills Ranger Station (the engine from this station was the first to be dispatched and the station was vacant), which was surrounded by an overgrazed meadow, showing tuffs of wild grass with much separation between the dead plants, grazed down to the point of any barely remaining above the ground. The weather station located here had been blown over by the winds and destroyed – so strong were the gusts. We only stopped briefly here. We continued on down the dirt road towards the origin of the fire, and somewhere along this direction of travel the captain realized that we would be in the direct path of the advancing fire. So once again we stopped. At this point one could hear the roar of the fire in the distance. It was louder than the winds which were deafening in itself. One could hear pines exploding from being superheated. We were dealing with a perfect fire ladder with fire in the ground vegetation, mid-growth and crowns of the trees. In other words, everything that could burn was burning intensely.

To explain a fire ladder is this. If we start out at the ground where the annual wild grasses have cured we have the flash fuels. Above this is mixed vegetation of chamise, scrub oak, shumac, manzanita, and others such plants that are usually dormant and have low fuel moistures. These can, and do grow high enough to be in the lower branches of the trees. With this combination we have a perfect ladder for the fire to transfer from the grasses, to the brush, to the trees, and on this and other fires is exactly what the fire accomplished.

We retreated back to that meadow outside of the Pine Hills station and watched from there. The winds at this point were so strong that if you opened the door to the engine the wind would whip it out of your hand, and anything loose in the cab would be blown away before anyone could react to prevent it from happening. We could see the smoke funneling down the canyon just to the north of us and shortly a spot fire began to burn, possibly at the head of that same canyon where it rose up to meet the meadow where we were. It was then I experienced something again that was unexpected – that fire began to burn across that overgrazed meadow. With the distance between the tuffs of grass I swore that it was impossible but again I was proved to be wrong.

On major fires or in conditions similar to this, spot fires are a common occurrence. Simply stated, a spot fire is another fire starting usually ahead of the main fire and this fire is caused by the main fire. With the heat generated the fire lifts hot ashes and coals into the atmosphere which eventually drops back down and can start new fires. On this particular fire it produced a spot fire approximately 5 miles ahead of its location. It is one of the factors that makes it so difficult to control these fires. And usually when they reach this size then you generally go from the offense to the defense trying to save whatever you can. When the fire begins to spot, then it will be nature that will allow control, not man and his machines.

For us it was becoming a desperate situation. As we continue this story, next time I’ll talk about one of those major spot fires that we fought the rest of that day to prevent it from crossing that dirt road that we had driven, to reach the station and this wildfire.

If you are just reading this for the first time, here are the links to parts 1 and 2. https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/a-slice-of-life-part-1/

https://windmillsmetaphor4writing.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/a-slice-of-life-part-2-2/

Published in: on August 31, 2013 at 8:07 am  Comments (1)  
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A Thanksgiving to Remember

We in this country are very fortunate that most holidays, including Thanksgiving are celebrated in a safe and secure home, with friends and family around us to enjoy the warmth of friendship. But this isn’t always the way of things, and while other places do not specifically have this holiday, they have similar celebrations. At times what one is living at that moment can make them thankful for just suviving and having a place to go. While fictional in nature, I know much of what is described here from personal experience.

The winds whipped out of the Northeast with a vengeance. Unfortunately it was a very cold wind, and dry. It picked up the ash and blew it around in black clouds covering them in soot and ash. If they could look into a mirror they would have sworn that they were coal miners with faces, and any exposed skin black. Large whirlwinds picked up more of the ash and danced across the barren, burned, and blackened landscape creating ghostly monsters dancing to their own music. The tents that they were living in were laid flat not being able to stand against the furiousness of the winds and their more powerful gusts. Then the pegs ripped out of the ground whipping the ropes into the air, followed by the shredding of the same tents. It really appeared that nature in her fury wanted to destroy anything that still remained, anything manmade. All the family could do was hold on and hope that soon these winds would diminish in intensity and leave them alone.

The only consolation that any of them had was the knowledge that they were not alone – not that they wished their plight on others. When the fires had ripped through the area there had been little warning and almost no time to escape. All they owned presently was what they had been able to get into their cars before fleeing. The rest was abandoned and that was a total loss. The fires had been intense pushed by similar winds which they were facing now, but this fire had been different from others from the past. Oh yes so much different. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for these winds to push wild fires such as these, but this one burned into these winds. Ah, one would think, if that was so, then it should have been easy to control, easy to extinguish, after all that meant that this fire had to fight for every foot. But alas it was not so. It burned with an intensity that defied belief, and with a speed completely unexpected – again into the winds of all things. In the end the ones in the know stated that this was topography and a fuel driven fire. What the winds had provided was the spark, the low humidity’s, a way to spread the fire, at the beginning. Once on the move it became a monster with a mind of its own, going where it pleased, not stopping, or ignoring anything, or anyone.

At first this fire was to the North of their location, far away, and while worrisome did not appear, in the beginning, as one that would have any effect on them. After all, the winds would push it away from their location, and all that would be necessary was to monitor it. Yet it hadn’t remained to north of them at all and had traveled south against those winds after being pushed west. Once west of their location it consumed everything in its path burning directly and rapidly into those strong winds. They had remained up late that previous night watching with unbelief as the mountain to the west of where they lived was consumed. With the rising sun all that could be seen in the west was a heavy dark boiling smoke cloud rising into the sky. This smoke cloud, running from the southwest to the northwest, with a sharp defined break between the hot boiling smoke being produced by the fire, and the clear blue skies, leaving none to doubt what was happening beneath that veil. The summer had been long and hot with no moisture, the winter before producing very little rain, leaving them in a heavy drought. The irony being this; the day the wild fires ended it rained.

Yes it had rained a cold rain which lasted a couple of days. Rusting the exposed burned metal left from the fires that had consumed the wood and other materials. The fire had been so hot that a barbeque was consumed leaving a skeleton of what it once was. But at least the rains were light. With nothing to hold the soils it could have resulted in another disaster following on the heels of the one caused by the fires. There easily could have been mudslides and flash flooding, adding to the misery and loss.  So for this small miracle they could be thankful. Yet where did one go from here? Their location had been remote and insurance impossible to get. So yes the question that lay before them was just that; where did they go from here? Yet, right at this moment it was the winds that were once again on their minds. It was Thanksgiving Day, and obviously they would not be celebrating it here. Thankfully other family members lived outside the zone of destruction and they were to head there instead – a small respite, a chance to reflect. With a future dark and unknown, and a past that had made them homeless, made them refugees in their own land, but maybe, just maybe, from this would be lessons of life. For many in this world were as such, and many families in this county, like theirs, had no place to live, no place to stay, and no real answers.

Yet today was a celebration of life, of being thankful for what they had, what they had endured, what they had survived – others hadn’t been as fortunate. So even with all that had transpired, all that had been lost, the hard times that they had faced, and would continue to face, they still had much to be thankful for. Things such as each other, and the support of family, the reaching out of strangers for the needs that existed, and most of all with all this destruction, the loss of personal items, their home, in the end it was just stuff. No one died, not one was injured, and while the future was unknown, and full of unknown problems, at this time, at this very moment, it was enough.

Published in: on November 17, 2012 at 8:43 am  Comments (1)  
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