Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Alaska wildfire as spectator sport

A friend posted that saying from a site called "Born in the Barn" on Facebook today.  She lives in Idaho and has been anxiously watching the major wildfires burning there this past week.  The posting reminded me of an  incident several years ago on the shores of Prince William Sound in Alaska.

This will take a bit of geography to explain.  Valdez, Alaska, is an ocean port in Prince William Sound.  The town is nestled tightly against the Chugach Mountains which begin their rise right behind the high school on the northern limits of the street grid.  The climate is almost rain forest, though Valdez at the northern limits of the sound is a bit cooler than the rest of the area.  As a result of the rainfall associated with the climate the area very seldom experiences wildfire.  Also, isolated as it is, with one road in and out of town, two commercial flights a day and otherwise boat travel, there is little to be offered in the way of spectator entertainment.  The closest thing the town has to a mall is three stores in the same building. Until, that is, one summer night in the late nineties when the area had experienced an unusual dry spell.

I had picked up a woman friend on the way to another friend's birthday barbecue and had stopped at a store while she went in to buy something or other she needed.  The way I parked my truck, I was looking at the mountain behind the high school.  As I sat there I saw a flash of light behind the school.  Kids were always climbing that steep slope to paint a large bare rock above the school, usually with the year number of the current graduating class.  (Later we heard but never confirmed it was kids with spray paint lighting a match to the paint as they sprayed that started the fire.)

The flash didn't stop, instead the light started climbing the slope, rapidly.  A wildfire is about the last thing to come to mind in that climate.  A UFO would have been a more likely guess for a strange light climbing toward the sky.

But, by the time my friend came out of the store, it had reached almost to the ridge.  At a higher elevation, it contacted our usual afternoon westerly sea breeze and the wind pushed it eastward along the mountain.  By then I had realized it indeed was a wildfire.

This event was not to be wasted.  Instead of heading immediately to the party, we drove to the end of a street that stopped in a cul-de-sac at a large park.  The spot gave us an excellent view of the whole mountainside.  I backed the truck against the curb.  In the back I had lawn chairs and some drinks for the party.  We set up the chairs in the truck bed, popped a couple of cans and prepared to watch the biggest spectator event to hit the town since the drive-in movie against a snow bank the previous winter.

As we watched and sipped our beers, the fire continued to spread along the side of the mountain leaving kind of a blackened line in its wake.  By the time the leading edge had burned maybe half a mile, we heard an airplane approach.  It made one pass along the face of the mountain then flew a circle and came back from the original direction.  This time it dispensed half a dozen parachutes, smoke jumpers, and they guided themselves toward the fire. Across the park and from nearby back yards we heard a couple of cheers from other spectators.  

Once on the ground, though we couldn't make them out in the brush, they went to work.  Within a couple of hours they had the fire all but extinguished.  Obviously this wasn't a large fire compared with those in Idaho this week or many that burn in Alaska over a normal summer.  But, this one had entertainment value.  When the white smoke indicating the fire was on the way to extinguishment (is that a word?) we folded up the chairs, carefully hid our empty cans and drove off to the party, having as I said, been there to see the biggest spectator event of the summer.

1 comment:

  1. Your comment on watching the movie on the snowbank reminded me of a story I did for the Nome Nugget a few years ago (OK, 35 years ago), covering the Alaska National Guard winter training being conducted by the regular Army guys.

    On Saturday night there was an outdoor movie, where we all sat on the back of snow machines to watch. The wind that night was not cooperative, however, so my recollections of the movie, "It's Alive!" are of watching it being shown on the back of Arctic camouflage clothing as they repeatedly kept trying to tape the screen back together. I'm certain the actual movie isn't nearly as funny as the one I remember watching.

    By the way, The Army men spent the flight out to Moses Point explaining how they'd round up the members of the First Scout Battalion, capture their flag, fort, and so on, then use it as a learning experience for the Guard members. As I recall, the final tally was something like First Scout Battalion one zillion, regular Army zero.

    The flight back to Nome was very subdued.


Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve