Wild Fire

The sky has darkened and the dragon is loose on the land.


The wildfire coming west of Lake Berryessa ran north by east smoking up the corridor where on a clear day from the porch at PsiKeep you can see the sun flashing off of the waters of Lake Berryessa. sky-and-euphrob

Tacking on the wind the fire grew from 30 acres at about noon on July 1 to 2,500 acres by 6:00p.m. By July 3 it was 4,300 acres jump-sparking as it roiled toward us. Each evening and morning there would be some containment by the fire crews but by the afternoon when the wind came up it was out of control, wild and ferocious.


On July 3 we went to DEFCON IV. We started the vehicles to make sure they had gas and were functioning. We parked them facing outward so they were easy to load and we would not have to turn them around the last minute.

On July 4 a sister fire broke out south east of Lake Berryessa.

Lucky for us the wind changed and the first fire tacked to the east before finally smoldering out. But no one ever completely puts down wild fire. Simpering beneath the earth ,”Feed me, feed me.” you could almost hear it say as it waits for just the right combination of heat and ignition to leap up once again.

We held the course at DEFCON IV and we did not have to go any further with preparations but the other stages are always in the back of your mind.

DEFCON III: Assemble the halters and cages and lead ropes. Pull the computers. Put the cats and dogs in the house so they can be loaded in the vehicles if the time comes. Cage the chickens. Start packing valuables in to boxes.

DEFCON II: (This is the stage when you can sight distant flames). Start putting the boxes containing the hard drives, molds, current projects, and valuables in the back of the vehicles. Halter the goats and tie each animal to the fence inside the paddocks ready to lead into the truck.

DEFCON I: Evacuate. Load the animals in the vehicles and drive out.

Evacuating is like looting your own things.
I come from a long line of self-looting from the experience of many fires in Topanga Canyon. It is a fast and choreographed dance ripping out and loading the vehicle with the most valuable and irreplaceable of things. It is a cleansing of oneself. What do you choose? You can never take it all so you take what you can rebuild within a few moments or hours’ depending on how close is the first sighting of the flames.

The keyword is “rebuild” putting your life back together as fast as possible when it is all over. Because the real strength, the real coordinates, the real things are within yourself. The other stuff is to just help make it happen as easily as possible.

Grab what you can but in an organized way. Know beforehand what you want to take and where everything is located. For me it is always the animals’ first then the computer hard drives and projects. Never waste space on clothes and personal items. They can always be replaced.

There is nothing good about a wild fire. A wild fire is transformation fast and complete but at what cost? Today the current dogma in a conversation about wild fires is the “controlled burn”. The guys who call for a controlled burn are the same guys who want to poison the lake to stop the “evasive” fish or shoot and trap the wolves so that hunters can get their prize elk

Life is complex and a “koyaanisqatsi” answer is no answer.

There are too many fires started by arsonists and nature to add more to the burning count. The few plants that have adapted to a high heat to release their seeds do not balance the destruction and suffering of a wild fire.

I have seen the result of a wild fire so hot it has melted machinery, burned parking lots, jumped freeways. In a wild fire there is something more terrifying than the expanding flames. A heat wave precedes the fire about 50 feet ahead like an invisible wall of destruction. Any vegetation two feet or less does not burst into flame but falls into ash as if disintegrated by a force field. Anyone accidentally stepping into that invisible wall will have their clothes burst into flames.

I have seen the remains of a herd of deer trapped in a box canyon. Their charred bodies are a testimony to the confusion that must have occurred in the smoke. After a fire there are tiny creatures such as snakes, mice, ground squirrels other rodents who mistakenly sought refuge in the ground as the fire rolled over them. Those that do not suffocate in the ground crawl out of their burrows with their fur smoldering as they die by the thousands on the road.

But what do you do with the elements that feed a fire? At PsiKeep I am feeding all the  cut brush to the goats. I am burning the dead trees for fuel in the winter or burning brush fires in the rain. But it is a small dent on just nine acres of timber and chaparral.

As I glean through the forest at Psikeep what I see is the forest-past choking the forest- present and the forest-future in the form of dead fall. While there are organism that breakdown the dead wood such as mycelium and termites in years of drought the dead fall lies un-decayed forming a crushing umbrella, which bends the young saplings under its weight. A dry tinderbox, fuel for the dragon just out of reach waiting to burn free.

What we need is to find is a use for all that dead fall on the hundreds of thousands of acres of wild land.

Posted on July 14, 2014, in Caretaking the Forest, Psi Keep Center for the Arts, Uncategorized, Unforeseen Events, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wow, quite a story. Very, very glad you were not burnt out.


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