Fires and ‘T’-towns

On the terrifying Carr Fire and confusing one armpit town with another

In college, I lived in a little house on an old almond and walnut farm outside of Hamilton City that’s been in my family since, well, before I was born. I’d been there for just a year or so—getting the hang of country life after growing up in the Bay Area ’burbs—when one day all hell broke loose.

It was summertime, and the back acreage was filled with bone-dry grass. Though it was hot and breezy, a worker at a nearby ranch decided it was an ideal time for ag burning. It didn’t take long for the fire to get out of control.

I sprang into action. First, by tending to my animals—two dogs, two cats and three horses. I loaded the cats into carriers and placed them in my car, which I’d parked in the shade with the windows down. Luckily, a neighbor a few ranches away spontaneously appeared and led my two mares and gelding to her place out of harm’s way.

I’ll never forget seeing the fire jump Stony Creek, the southern boundary of the property. It engulfed the bamboo-like arundo donax lining the near-empty waterway. Then the sounds grew louder—crackling, popping and roaring as the flames climbed cottonwood, oak and sycamore trees, sending embers sailing toward the outbuildings and my house.

That spurred further action. I grabbed a ladder and a couple of hoses and raced up to the old wood-shingled roof—placing a sprinkler at one end and hand-dousing the other part as the embers touched down.

Word of the fire spread quickly. Some folks came as spectators, which was pretty annoying. Others helped stamp out little patches that caught fire. I had the house under control by the time the then-all-volunteer fire station made it to the property. Just about the time I thought the hay barn was going to be a goner, the firefighters connected their hose and tamped down the flames.

After the coals cooled, days later, I surveyed the area. The only thing remaining of those big, beautiful old trees were their charred skeletal trunks jutting out of a barren landscape that looked like some sort of alien planet.

For several weeks afterward, I often awoke in the middle of the night thinking I’d heard popping, only to find things were fine. Based on my experience with that small blaze, I can’t imagine what the folks in the Redding area are going through. As of deadline, the massive Carr Fire had torched nearly 900 homes and taken the lives of six people, including children, and turned parts of the region into what resembles a post-apocalyptic nightmare. My heart goes out to our neighbors to the north (see Arts DEVO for ways to help).

Mea culpa Last week, I made a mistake in a piece about Rep. Doug LaMalfa bringing embattled Rep. Devin Nunes to town for a fund-raiser (see “Kindred spirits,” Second & Flume). In response, the pitchforks have come out. One letter-writer showed his cards with a subject line of “Time for another Fake News Correction.” However, he didn’t challenge me over Nunes’ reputation as a slithering Trump sycophant who’s tried to undermine the American intelligence community’s investigation into Russian meddling. No, my egregious error was confusing Turlock with Tulare, another town in the armpit of California that begins with a “T.”