This will either be a very short slice of mountain life or an epic tale of evacuation, resettling and rebuilding. Having been through the latter, I hope it's the former.
Fawnskin, CA 3:13 PM
A 5-acre wildfire is burning approximately 3 miles outside of town. Fire crews are on the scene and both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters are dropping water and fire retardants. No evacuation orders have been given.
Fire has spread to 200 acres. Extremely high winds make containment impossible. Fire appears to be spreading to the north. If winds shift east, we will evacuate.
Spoke with firefighters purchasing supplies in town: "We'll be OK if the winds shift west. We need them to go west.." "Some of those canyons up there are tricky, man."
Will we be OK?
(long pause) "I don't know."
No real change. The winds are steady northeast. Due to the fire's proximity to the lake, helicopters can make many runs in a short period of time, dropping water on the fire. The sun will be down soon, the temperature will drop and the fire will lay down. Tomorrow's another day.
The bureaucratic automatons at the USFS will give nothing but generic information and will verify nothing. My conversation:
"The fire was rumored to be caused by a controlled burn. Is this true?"
"The cause of the fire is still under investigation, sir."
"But did the USFS have a controlled burn today?"
"I cannot verify that, sir."
"You don't know what YOU did?"
"Sir, I cannot confirm or.."
"Can I speak with someone else?"
"Call back later "*click*
I have more resources but it will take a little while..
Walked down to the local bar and basked in the camaraderie that's shared among people who know their town may be destroyed soon. We laughed and joked and danced...
...walking out every few minutes to gaze at the glowing red sky.
The fire is at 2,000 acres. A northerly wind is blowing the fire into Holcomb Valley. If this continues, it may miss us. If the wind shifts to the east, we're toast.
As of 8:45am Saturday John Miller of the US Forest Service tells KBHR that the fire grown to 4,000 acres and is now the number one wildland fire priority in the nation.
This is bad.
Received evacuation order. Not sure if I'm going to leave...
I'm going to stay as long as I can. This is my home. I can't express to you people how sublime this is....planes and helicopters flying into a thousand foot plume like hornets into a barbecue. Helicopters flying over the house screaming my life is in danger. Screw 'em. Whose isn't?
The fire is now just north of us. Holcomb Valley, the site of the old gold rush town appears to be going up. All that history....
I am directly under the flightpath of the helicopters now. It sounds like a bad Oliver Stone Vietnam movie. The sheriffs are roaming the streets looking for looters. If I leave my property I will be scooped up. Funny, I don't remember moving to Baghdad.
Ran the gauntlet of looter-stalkers to go to Fawnskin Market (still open to accommodate the firefighters). A local girl had decked herself in full groupie regalia (skintight black ensemble with all the appropriate naughty bits peeking out) and was holding court with a group of six firemen. Though she was laughing hysterically, I can't imagine they had anything that funny to say. The sun is going down, the temp will drop soon. Hopefully, the fire will lay down.
The flames are now visible from the house. Beautiful, actually!
Now that the temperature has dropped....the lazy undulations of the flames...
It's like a vicious feral beast slumbering. I can't, for the life of me, take a picture that does it justice. I wish you all were here to see this. Magnificent.
The fire breathes... it actually breathes! It inhales air and smoke and exhales flame. I am so glad I stayed. I am so glad I got to see this.
Every time I satisfy myself that it's safe to retire, the fire belches a gigantic orange ball of fury into the sky. Fatigue is getting the better of me, though. As far as I can tell, the fire is moving north and west. Good news for Fawnskin. Very, very bad news for Running Springs and Green Valley. My thoughts will be with them as I fall to sleep. This will be my last post tonight.
Sunday 7:50 AM
No change that I can see. Firefighters have a base camp at the marina below my house. If I see them flee, I will too. Promise.
The Butler 2 Fire has now consumed 15437 acres and is 12% contained. Firefighters worked the fire all night keeping it away from structures in Fawnskin. The mandatory evacuation remains in effect for the communities of Fawnskin and Green Valley Lake. Winds continue to hamper the fight along with low humidity but fortunately temperatures will continue to drop for the next few days.
White smoke! We have white smoke, everybody! It's looking much better.
Damnit. The wind is blowing east, as I had feared. The fire has jumped the hill and is just outside of town. Maybe a mile away. Very bad turn of events.
The fire is clearly visible from my house...less than a mile, I think. There is a C130 and two smaller fixed-wings dumping retardant, as well as three or four helicopters.. The fire department may pull out soon, according to a Sheriff I just spoke with.. This sucks.
Currently the winds have picked up and shifted slightly, causing two fire crew divisions working near Fawnskin to pull back to safety zones. It is not believed that the fire has moved any closer to Fawnskin, but it still remains dangerously close at one half mile from town
I'm staying, folks. The C130, airplanes and various helicopters are queued up dumping water and retardant. They are really hammering that bastard. There has been no visible spread in the last hour or so. The smoke looks awful but so far is not so bad as to make breathing difficult. 12% containment so far.
For the third time today, the sheriffs have come and tried to drag me out. It's getting humorous now (they are amused too). Once the air support stops at sunset, we are on our own. This promises to be an entertaining night! According to my law-enforcement pals, the fire is now moving down the hill into town.
It's bad now. The fire is moving down the hill into town. My wife is screaming at me that we should leave. Screw it. I will see this through. I will document this. The wife can go and and I've told her to. The rest of the journalistic sissies have all left.
Until the end.
If last night was spectacular and sublime, tonight is quiet and eerie and ominous. The temperature has dropped to the point where the fire has laid down and is barely visible. A black delta of smoke is now directly above us. I will set an alarm and sleep in 2 hour shifts.
We are blanketed in smoke now. My clothes reek and my lungs hurt. I can't tell what's going on because visibility is so bad. I can still see the firefighter basecamp. They're staying, so I am too.
I can't see anything anymore. My eyes are burning. Somewhere in the darkness, I can hear heavy equipment. All respect and gratitude to the firefighters; it is so much worse where they are. I will take my catnap now. See you in 2 hours.
The wind has shifted again and the smoke is blowing elsewhere. It's quiet and clear now. The fire is visible on the hill just above town. It flares up from time to time, but doesn't appear to be moving.
MONDAY 6:42 AM
No change. If we make it through this day, I think it'll be ok. The wind is still blowing more towards the north.
The copters are back in the air. Most of the firefighters' activity seems to be concentrated on North Shore Drive to the south of the fire. There are many homes there. It occurs to me that there are quite a few homes in the woods on that hill that must be just yards from the fire at this point.
No change. A grey haze hangs over Fawnskin. No flames visible right now.
Spoke with a firefighter who was taking a break in town. He said they made "a lot of progress" on the fire up the hill last night. He was optimistic because the humidity is up and the winds are down. "We have lots of contingencies in place if the fire gets into town."
Woke up to good news From KBHR:
We have just been on the fire scene, and reports are good on the Butler #2 Fire. There are presently 120 handcrews of 20 firefighters each aggressively attacking the fire on the ground, with the active fire burning now 2 ½ miles west of Fawnskin. This is a marked improvement as, earlier, the fire line had reached as far east as a half mile from Fawnskin. Fire officials report that containment efforts to the north have been successful, and the west-bound perimeter of the fire has also seen considerable progress today. Word is that fire crews expect to have the upper hand in fire suppression efforts later today, or tomorrow.
Several helicopters are attacking the hot spot above town relentlessly. Still a lot of smoke, but I haven't seen flames since this morning. If the KBHR report is accurate, they have beaten the fire back almost two miles!
I hope that I have effectively expressed my gratitude to the firefighters for the phenomenal job they have been doing. The pilots, the Forest Service crews and especially the Fire Department ground crews (who have been working round the clock) are the only reason I am able to post any of this...or even remain in my home.
Aircraft are aggressively fighting the fire farther and farther back into the hills. This may be the end of the crisis. Tonight will tell.
Just watched the last two airdrops of the evening (a DC10, maybe, and some smaller craft). The wind is cool and gentle, blowing east and south. The air is clear enough to open doors and windows in my house again. If the present conditions continue, I will feel comfortable sleeping through the night (I need it badly). Depending how things are tomorrow, I will post final thoughts in the morning and wrap this up. I will update every couple of hours tonight as needed and as long as I am awake.
Now that the sun has set, it's much clearer what is happening. There is a pronounced red glow to the west and south. There are still visible flames on the hill above town, but nothing like the last two nights. No change in wind speed or direction. Temperature dropping. All is well, so far.
All is quiet, peaceful. One final vain river of smoke emanates from a dull orange glow. The moon is setting, blood red, behind it. The air is sweet and pure. I will enjoy a scotch and then reaquaint myself with sleep. Thank you for being with me, everyone.
I'm wrapping this up. The fire is at 53% containment. With the exception of some homes to the south of the fire, Fawnskin appears to be safe. I expect the mandatory evacuation to be lifted soon.
What I did here wasn't bravery; it was foolishness and hubris. All the while I was cowering here posting updates, there were thousands of men in the woods with shovels and chainsaw, actually doing something important.