The tsuname of fire that burned through the Morongo Valley and the north end of this desert earlier this year took just one life.
The fire burning last week in the pass just a few miles away from my Palm Springs home took 4 lives. The poor surviving fifth firefighter was found in a charred fire truck with 95% of his body burned. His chances at life were finally snuffed out today.
Burning season in California has turned into the dying season.
In the late spring this year I drove through Idylwild and all along the mountains where this fire later raged at the toe of the western slope. While crusing through the pine and fir dense communities of alpine homes I thought many times how much I would love to live there. But just as many times I reminded myself that this decadent old forest would blow up like a volcano in a wildfire. And all those homes would go with it. It would be impossible to save those perched on canyon ledges that fire would see as a natural chimney, gathering the heat and sending it upward in a searing column of smoke. Trees and homes would be hot enough to combust long before the flames arrived.
I have lived thorugh many wildfires from fast moving grass blazes to kiln hot forestfires that can melt an engine block. The people in today’s fire zone will hear the trees crack before they burn, the propane tanks explode and the freight train roar of an oncoming firestorm. This is what those poor fire fighters heard before they were overcome with unimaginable heat. Wildfires don’t follow rules any more, and when hot Santana winds blow across the southland in the fall, land dies, homes die, and most importantly, people die.
2006 is proving to be a landmark year in wildfire history of America. More deaths and injuries from coast to coast than ever before is casting a new light on this perennial problem. It is likely due to the fact that our forests everywhere have reached a decadence that is fueling increasingly erratic fires.
What was once merely a land management issue, one that touched all who live in high fire hazard zones has now grown into something more problematic to those who fight the fires. And the ones unlucky enough not to get out in time will pay the price.