- Posted July 20, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Wildfires blazing near you
Mountain Fire Photos
My wife and I are photographers and have maintained a facebook page (My Idyllwild) for our community that was mostly landscape photos of the area and town life/events, until now. When the fire first broke out, I was caught in the Garner Valley area of Hwy 74. I encountered the fire right along that highway as it met with highway 243 and it's origin, the town of Mountain Center. I began to shoot photos and upload them to my wife who worked them and got them posted. It was our understanding that we were the first to get these images and so our little facebook page seemed the right way to get info to our very concerned community. A county wide newspaper, the Press Enterprise and 2 of their journalists carried the photos online in blogs and Facebook etc. They have become intimately involved in the information loop since then.
Some of my experiences about the fire...
The smoke has been a constant element to this experience. We smell it all the time. Some days, some hours are better than others depending on how the fire fight on the ridges are going. The smoke plume had an intense and threatening look to it the first days. Since last night it has turned a welcome white, which tells me that real progress is being made up there. Along with the smoke, have come falling ash and embers. Starting a few mornings ago, there were charcoaled scales from what looked like tree bark all over the mountain. Pine trees from the look of it. They were up to the size of quarters and lying around the neighborhoods. Most disturbing. This was apparently the source of the concern for Idyllwild by fire officials. A plume of smoke carrying hot ash and embers would rise up during the later part of the day (Fire officials coined it "The bewitching hours") to some 15k feet or more and mushroom over the town itself. The heavy embers would then fall into town.
A local business owner up here, kept one of his restaurants (The Red Kettle; a diner) open to serve the fire personnel, and served hundreds, more often than not, for free. The Mountain Center Cafe has also been serving the firefighters at the origin of the fire.
I have been hearing and seeing all manor of aircraft flying over head and toward the ridge lines. They go back and forth to and from the airport in Hemet. Another constant element to being here. The DC 10 is particularly impressive with it's very large bay (16k + gallons?) of suppressant affixed to the bottom as it augers and turns toward the fire lines. When your home and community and everything you love are under threat, a site like that is enough to make you choke back tears of gratitude. But living in the mountains keeps you keenly aware of just how heroic service people are. We know that they fight for our lives for a living.
Many different agencies of fire fighters have been going around the neighborhoods, checking out homes and putting yellow posting on the property that state information like propane tanks on the property, fire abatement footage (how many feet of pine needle etc. have been cleared from the home) and other pertinent info like that.
I have also been intensely involved with the social media chatter. Many many of us residents have been exchanging any and all info that we have or come across. It feels like wartime in the 40s and I'm hovered around the radio keeping abreast of the latest. Idyllwild Town Crier has been an excellent and invaluable source of the latest official information with constant and multiple postings on their website as well as Facebook. My family, off the mountain has made use of their online presence to keep informed of things and comfort themselves with my situation. Idyllwild Herald (an online presence) has acted as a conduit of info and comfort between people who may not know each other but happen to be "Likes" of theirs on facebook as well as posting to their own site. The sense of closeness I have with my fellows in Idyllwild has become so much more intense by reading their posts of information, worry and comfort. We are all trying to take care of each other in this new way.
In Idyllwild proper, aside from some fire personnel etc., the town is mostly empty and still. We (town folk) are used to seeing each other about. The place is bereft of almost any activity. There are only a few familiar faces around the mountain and when we catch each others eye, we wave and say hi with an extra element of connection and support as if saying to each other that we know this is not how it's supposed to be and that things will be all right soon. Your hopes and fears go into those moments.
Currently, most of us are hearing good news from the fire fight but the looming question is: What will the coming storms bring. Rain? Wind? Lightning? Or a combo? The humidity is rising in favor of the fight and we are all hopeful to be allowed into our homes by Monday or Tuesday. We'll see...