Burbank fire interrupts life in Smith Valley
October 7, 2011
Life changed for us in Smith Valley last week.
“Hi, it’s Laura, have you seen all the smoke over in the Pine Nuts? It looks like it’s coming from around Marilyn Shreve’s house.” I call her house. No answer. I look across the valley to see a billowing cloud of smoke exploding skyward. The location is right where Burbank Canyon spills into the valley.
“We’d better go over and see if she’s OK.” And with that Orllyene, my wife, and I race across the valley in our Jeep.
We get as far as Day Lane and Upper Colony. A hive of police cars and firefighting vehicles are clustered around Jim’s hangar.
The officer on duty says no vehicles are allowed any further. A helicopter dips its bucket in a pond and flies back to the fire line. I ask the officer, “Am I allowed to walk up the road?”
With his permission, I start out for Marilyn’s daughter’s house. There is no one home and their RV is gone. Massive plumes of smoke now obscure the mountains. As I trudge forward, toward Jim’s hangar, a voice rings out. It’s retired fire chief Jim on an ATV.
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“Are you nuts? What are you doing here?” Jim has changed back to fire chief status. “I’m trying to find Marilyn,” I say. Jim replies, “I drove over to her place an hour ago and said ‘Marilyn, you better gather up your things, get in your car, and get outta here.’ I think she’s with her daughter. Here get in. I’ll take you to your car.”
There’s nothing we can do.
During the night we watch evil tongues of fire on the hillside. Pinon pines are intensely flammable and explode when ignited.
Early the next morning, a calm pervades the Pine Nuts. There’s hardly a whiff of smoke anywhere. An hour later, the wind comes up and the fire begins to rage in earnest. It’s worse than ever. It is spreading higher up the mountain, and deeper into Burbank Canyon.
We make another attempt to find our friend Marilyn. She and her kitty have spent the night with her friend, Lori. When we connect with her, she says “I just know I’m not going to lose my house. Can you believe it, yesterday I flew from Spain, through nine time zones on three different airplanes and I still haven’t slept in my own bed.”
It is comforting to learn that firefighting crews from Douglas, Carson, Tahoe and Kern County were battling the fire, but there is bad news also. Gusts will be up to 65 mph on the peaks and 25 mph in the valley.
After leaving Marilyn, we stop at another friend’s house. Pamela and Buddy have a rustic cabin tucked into the side of the Pine Nuts. Pamela is a nationally acclaimed artist.
She’s also an author. As we drive up the winding dirt road, a puffy white cloud of smoke peers over a ridge to the north. “I am so glad you’re here,” Pamela says. Orllyene, sensing apprehension, suggests we load our big, old Town Car with her paintings, journals, and book drafts. Within minutes our car is filled with her priceless efforts and away we go. Pamela prefers to remain at home. Buddy is away on a business trip.
The next day, the wind shifts. Pamela’s house is safe. The wind is blowing to the north. Red Canyon and the group of homes in that area are now threatened. I call my friend, Lori. She had been advised to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
“I just don’t know what to do,” she says. I listen to her words and wish there is something I can do. Before we hang up she says, “I am so glad you called. It feels good to know someone out there cares. We’re like family, aren’t we?”
Today, the fire is gone. It’s as if it never existed, except on the charred hillside. The valley seems to be sighing. So many people responded so diligently.
Not a single home was lost.
We may be God’s greatest achievement, but how small we feel when we are faced with the turmoil nature can bring.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley