Monday, September 2, 2013

Rim Fire Update from Groveland

It's August 17, 2013, and Lliam and I are out for an afternoon walk around our neighborhood at Pine Mountain Lake. We crest a small hill and out in the distance see a lot of smoke. It looks like it's within a few miles of us. Planes and helicopters are circling around, apparently working to put the fire out. As we eat our BBQ steaks for dinner on our back deck, we continue to see more aircraft, and it looks like they are getting water from Don Pedro and perhaps even Pine Mountain Lake.

The next morning, Will gets a peek at the fire and it seems to be almost down to smoldering ash. We go back to Livermore and forget the whole thing for a couple of days. We don't really watch the news, so the next thing we hear is a stream of text messages from my mom about the blaze growing out of control. Then we hear that part of Pine Mountain Lake is evacuated. Will wonders whether it's worth retrieving some of our stuff, but I talk him out of it. I'm sure hoping we have a place to come back to for Labor Day, but feel very fortunate that this is our second home and not our main residence at risk.

A few more days pass and the imminent threat is gone. We wonder to each other how we can thank the 5,000 personnel who helped save our cabin. In fact, we decide to head up to Pine Mountain Lake for Labor Day weekend, feeling very fortunate. As we draw near, there is noticeable haze in the distance.

Entering the town of Groveland, we're overwhelmed by the outpouring of gratitude by the community. The town is plastered in thank-you signs.

Local restaurants and coffee shops are offering free or discounted food & beverage.

Even homes that are fairly remote (far down Feretti road) have signs up. We decide to make our own sign, which we put on display opposite the Groveland park.

While we're in town, we run into a couple of groups of firefighters in town. We make a point to thank them for saving our cabin. We met groups from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Montecito. We chatted with several in the coffee shop and they start whipping out their phones showing us pictures and videos of the fire and a helicopter dumping massive amounts of water. 

Lliam posing with fire fighters from the Santa Maria Fire Department
I ask if they have seen many out of state personnel and it turns out they had never seen so many. Some personnel came from places like New Mexico, Alabama, and practically all over. Despite having worked nights for the past 10 days or so, these gents are very friendly and downright chipper.

We stop by the Groveland fire station to see the day-by-day fire progression map that's on display. I ask the employee on staff if the fire fighters are in need of anything. He chuckles and says that they have everything they need. They set up camp, have portable showers and caterers. Who knew?

One of the firemen had remarked to us that off of Feretti is practically a moonscape now, so of course Will feels the need to investigate. We drive out as far as we can go, and sure enough, we get to a road block long before any sign of devastation is evident.

In fact, we are quite surprised to see how far away the fire was from where we thought. Luckily, our backyard "playground" in the Stanislaus National Forest is spared.

This area last burned in 1987 and was re-planted as part of the Penny Pines project. That burn was a paltry 144,000 acres, compared to the >225,000 acres of this year's Rim Fire.

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