I am doing the A-Z challenge, focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County. I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me. Today’s letter is F for Fire, as in Cal Fire, Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade, Laytonville Volunteer Fire Department and Willits Volunteer Fire Department. (In the off-season my middle son is a captain in the Willits Volunteer Fire Department and my youngest son is a volunteer in the Laytonville Volunteer Fire Department.)
Fire on the Mountain
(With apologies to The Marshall Tucker Band for borrowing their title)
I find it ironic that in the winter I rely on fire, exclusively, to heat my home up on Bell Springs Road, whereas in the summer, I and my neighbors have an incredible fear of fire, that is fire in an incontrollable state. We rely on a greater force to come to the rescue, in the event that a fire escapes its confines and goes on the rampage. There is nothing I have encountered that makes my heart pound more frantically than the sight of flames and smoke that are obviously not contained.
Two summers ago, only two parcels over-that is, forty acres to the north-a fire began at a site where these men were conducting some sort of nefarious operation. They used a generator and a water pump in various ways, to keep their scene happening; something went horribly wrong and these men ran for cover, leaving the site and driving away. The first I heard about it was a water tanker flying around the immediate vicinity, seemingly passing over my house about every two minutes, not much higher than treetop level.
I raced out behind my place and through a break in the oak trees, I saw a wall of flames. Smoke was billowing up and the whole conflagration was right there in front of me. As Bell Springs Road proceeds along the ridge, eventually allowing a driver to reach Garborville to the north, the west side (our side) of the road is mostly heavily weeded, rolling hills, with lots of manzanita, scrub oaks and other types of vegetative growth. The east side of Bell Springs Road is much more heavily populated with oak, fir and pine trees.
Over the years, my home has been endangered by out-of-control fires at least eight times, with the fires being as far away as a mile or more, to at least five being within a couple of hundred acres. We must rely on outsiders to come to the rescue, or else run the risk of losing everything we own. It is a scary proposition at best, and a catastrophic one at worst.
Out of this most recent fire that I mentioned above was born the Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade, an attempt by the local residents, all of whom live on the mountain, or at least have property and homes on the mountain, to instigate a viable force to combat wildfires, that could possibly end up destroying the very fabric of our lives. Though I would be more of a liability in a fire, than a help, I have three sons and Annie, who more than make up for me. Two of my sons are Cal Fire studs, who go to work in early May, and do not get off until early November. My third son is heavily involved in the Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade, and Annie is the Administrative and Dispatch Office of the BSVFB.
Last summer my youngest son worked in the tower in Ukiah, dispatching those water tankers all over Mendocino County, and points beyond. My middle son, after being part of the county’s Helitack force for three years, spent this past season driving the Helitender, the vehicle which carries fuel and support components for the county’s helicopter(s). It’s a heck of a way to make a living, but it’s a service that allows Annie and me to sleep at night.
Early last summer, some folks from out of the area, were visiting neighbors four or five parcels to the south of us, and unwittingly pulled their vehicle off the driveway, into some dry underbrush. Ach-tung, Chucko! Flame on Johnny! It didn’t take long before the Bell Springs Volunteer Fire Brigade was called out, interrupting a Sunday afternoon baseball game/barbecue over at neighbor Rex’s place. One second there was a high-spirited baseball game happening; the next second there was a cloud of dust hanging in the air. By the time the Laytonville Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene, the BSVFB had the fire under control, preventing what could have been a much more frightening situation. It’s called community action, and whatever does the trick is awesome.
I do not know if growing up on the mountain contributed to my sons’ desire to work for Cal Fire, but I sure know it means a lot to me and Annie.