Beaver Creek Fire

*I actually started writing this while the fires were still strongly burning. I was headed out of town and it just slipped through the cracks but I wanted to post it anyways. I feel that I need to keep it fresh in my mind as I know this won’t be the last go-around with Mother Nature we’ll be dealing with as the climate changes.*

The last few days have felt like living in la-la land {no, not L.A. land}. I live in Sun Valley, ID which is known as being the gateway to the Sawtooths. Therefore, I live in the mountains, in forests, in woods, in short – wilderness. Wild fires are far from uncommon up here. In fact, in the last 3 years that I’ve been back home, every summer we’ve had intense fires nearby and around that have caused us to live in smoke for sometimes up to a month at a time. The fires have, for the most part, been started naturally by lightning and unless they are directly threatening homes and general livelihood, are allowed to burn themselves out under the watchful eyes of firefighters and forest service personnel. Living in a valley means the smoke just loves to pour in and settle here. While it’s gross and nasty, it’s a part of life. I’ve often joked that we’re “blessed” with 5 seasons now: winter, spring, summer, fire and fall.

My normal, silly day-to-day life was upended a bit last week {August 16-19} when I woke to the the nasty smell of campfire in my bedroom. When I walked downstairs to the kitchen, smoke was actually visible in the house. I knew that my morning dog walk was going to be nasty. We walked outside and the clouds of smoke were so thick I could barely see the tops of the hills right across the street. The dogs who normally run amuck and act like a couple of spazzes in the morning were soon lethargic on the walk, panting heavily although the temperature was quite cool. When we went back inside they looked absolutely miserable.

Through the billowing smoke clouds and ash, I carried on with my Friday as usual. I made my eggs and bacon, went to work, started answering emails and phone calls – the usual. I had FaceBook up the whole time as well to stay updated on the fires as they had actually started a few days before {local radio station KECH 95.3 was on top of posting every piece of information that came its way}. An employee soon called and said that a part of the valley that is en route from Hailey to Ketchum, East Fork, had been put under mandatory evacuation and the highway was opening and closing as needed for fire fighting. We sent our South Valley people home right away so they wouldn’t be stranded, away from homes, family and pets.

Not 30 minutes later, our cell phones were ringing, with disembodied, automated calls telling us the entire cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley had been put under pre-evacuation notice. That meant we didn’t have to leave right away, but we had to be ready to leave immediately if necessary. My heart started racing. I became pretty emotional and was fighting to hold back tears. It felt like our world here in Idaho was on the verge of ending. It was strange for me to feel this way as I had lived in San Diego during both of the huge wildfires (2003 & 2007) we had that were really quite scary, but I hadn’t felt as though I was in danger. Here, I felt that no one was 100% safe.

After talking with the store manager, who was fortunate enough to be in NYC at Market with another associate, we decided it was best to close the store so the rest of us could get our affairs in order. As I was heading home {I live in an area called Warm Springs which means I headed in north} the line of traffic heading south to leave town was unbelievable. August is the busiest time of the year for every business in town and watching the visitors, second home-owners and full-time residents flee the choking smoke was disheartening to say the least.

On my short drive home I had been thinking of what needed to be packed in case we did end up being evacuated: family photos, grandma’s Derby Crown China, passport, birth certificate and other paperwork, jewelry, certain pieces of art work, dog food, laptop, wedding dress for my sister’s upcoming nuptials and of course my basic bathroom necessities and clothes to last for weeks if necessary.

Packing took me about 2 hours as my mind was a jumble of thoughts. To ease my busy brain, I had a few glasses of wine, walked the dogs again {the smoke had cleared up a bit} and talked with some neighbors who had stayed in their homes through the Castle Rock Fire{Quick aside: I wasn’t living in Idaho during this fire and I’m more than grateful because the house I live in now was threatened by the fire as it was across the street from the hill the flames were cresting. Thank god for firefighters.} They assured me that we were completely safe as it had created a back burn around us, acting as a natural fire barrier. My mind had been put at ease, somewhat. {Here’s a map of the fire in comparison with past fires.}

I went back in and waited for my boyfriend to come home. He had taken it upon himself to make sure we had gas in our cars and was currently waiting in an hour long line at one of the very few stations we have in town. I packed some things for him and started loading my car. One bright side to this ordeal was that I was being much more conservative than I ever thought I’d be in this particular situation. Sure I grabbed a dress or two that I absolutely loved, but I didn’t fill boxes with high heels and knick knacks. It was a sobering moment, realizing that if I lost it all that day, I would of course be heartbroken, but it wouldn’t mean the end of the world for me.

Anyways, he eventually made it home, we packed the car with our things and the pups and went to a friend’s house in town. I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting in our smoke-filled house all day, sitting on the edge of our seats and checking the fire status every 2 seconds on FaceBook. We didn’t really do anything at her house either, but we were with other people and the dogs were with us. From her porch we watched one of the 2 DC10’s and its spotter maneuver through our small, narrow valley to get to the 500+ foot flames that were attacking our community so it could drop some retardant on the fire.

Putting out Beaver Creek Fire

That night, we had more friends over and had some beers. We talked about the fire a lot and who we knew that might be getting evacuated and what might happen if we didn’t get more resources in. The night passed, albeit it was a really long one, and we all went to our homes to catch some shut eye, wondering what the next day would bring.

My phone died during the night and I was woken up on Saturday to my sister calling my boyfriend’s phone, sounding very worried and asking if we were ok. I told her we were fine, just waking up, and asked her why. She informed me the fire had increased by 50% overnight and that the threat to Greenhorn Gulch, the original problem area, now included Croy Canyon, located in Hailey. I woke up quickly, quite literally jumping out of bed to find my computer and find out what the latest news was. It was true, the fire had spread considerably and we were still waiting for outside resources to come to our aid. More mandatory evacuations had been set and I knew more than a few people who’s homes were out Croy and hoped that they were safe.

I sat at the breakfast bar downstairs, seeing images of the raging fire eating away at the place I’ve called home most of my life. I finally broke down and cried. The stress and worry had reached its summit in my heart and I was incredibly sad.

Carbonate Beaver Creek Fire

…………..

The day went on. Again we went to our friend’s house to take our minds off of what was going on around us. We talked about leaving town just for the day to get fresh air but couldn’t find it in ourselves to leave, even for a moment. Our heads and stomachs hurt from the nastiness of the toxic smoke. I was feeling dizzy, weak and out of it in general from the lack of oxygen. It was the most bizarre sensation. I felt like we should be doing something productive, normal really, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do anything other than sit in the apartment, drinking beer and hoping for the best.

Greenhorn on Fire

As soon as it was open, we went to literally the only open bar/restaurant in town to breathe fresher air, numb our disbelief with liquor and eat their delicious food. On our way there, our normally bustling main street was empty, making it look as though we lived in a ghots town. The Cellar became our home base that night. We parked it in a corner and people came and went. We had dinner, then a light snack. We took shots, tried different beers, compared stories with the other brave souls who had stuck around. While it was in all actuality a fun night, it was also disorienting.

The next day, Sunday, I had to go to work. Hardly anyone came in and I was still feeling…odd. I had had a headache for the last 3 days and as I mentioned before, still felt really dizzy.

At this point we had many fire fighters and hot shot crews battling The Beast, as it came known to be, so the threat of the wildfire consuming our town had whittled away. Evacuations were being lifted and through the grape vine we learned that out of the thousands of homes that had been threatened, only 1 was lost {and for that I am still so sorry}. Things were starting to look up.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

That night we took it easy and tried to have a bit of normalcy in our lives. We had dinner at home and went to bed on the early side, wanting to be fresh when we both went into work Monday morning. We again woke up to the smell of wildfire in our bedroom and mustered up the energy to start our day. On my way to my job, town looked as though a few people had ventured back. The phones were ringing with calls from vendors and visitors alike who had come to love our small town, wanting to hear if everything was going to be ok. I answered their questions while breathing in the clean, A/C air at work and trying to get my mind to focus.

My sister’s wedding was the following weekend and I had to switch gears from wildfires to wedding and travel preparations. The rest of the world was still spinning, with people getting on with their daily lives, and now, so was mine.

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