A kaleidoscope of images: an open field filled with smoke so heavy it just hung above the ground, acrid smell of burnt wood and hay, the harsh, almost choking me taste at the back of my throat, the D-8 coming towards the car, its blade taking up the whole road, but I never saw the fire in full flames. I only saw its start. The forest fire was an initiation, truly a trial by fire.
The woods were dry—very very dry that July. Crackly dry. We couldn’t walk in them. It was too dangerous. Chain saws were not allowed. The air was bitter, needle tasting. And that day at the lake it was windy. Hot and dry.
Chris and I, along with baby Clare, had joined our friends at the lake to swim. My nose flared with the hot air. The woods prickled with heat. We were cooling off. As I got out of the lake I looked up at the sky and saw a dark ominous roiling cloud in the west horizon. I pointed it out to Chris. Time to go. Now. Just like that. All of us there at the lake moved fast; gathering up towels, reaching for belongings, kids, dogs. I scooped up Clare, the blanket, and got into the truck. We headed home. We did not say fire to each other, but that’s what we were thinking. I squeezed Clare tight on my lap, my breath held. We drove up the gravel road, came around the bend, near our yurt, and then I saw the fire cloud that was on our nearby neighbor’s land. I could feel the hot wind that was pushing the fire towards our place.
A dead tree had had been tipped by the wind and it crashed onto a transformer to the west of our land. The woods were tinder dry, sparks flew, and the hot summer wind drove the white-blue arcs in a whoosh. Orange flames erupted, and the wind fed the fire energy pushing it forward towards our land, and our neighbors’. It was coming in a swath that burnt 1000 acres. We didn’t know that then—we just saw the black haze and smelled the pungent smoke and knew that fire was coming. I could smell burnt wood and hay, an almost choking me taste at the back of my throat. It was 1977.
I wrote this as our friends in Chewelah were experiencing and surviving the Carpenter Road Fire of Stevens County, 2015. This fire burnt over 27,000 acres.
©Katherine Boyer, 2015