When I was younger than a teenager and my family took camping trips for vacation, I had my first experience with fire. Now, of course, I had experienced the burn-your-marshmallows kind of fire many times. We had gone camping for many years in a row. I even saw my father use a flat piece of metal supported by rocks over an open flame, cook us breakfast before. But my first scary experience with fire came one day when the family in the campsite next to us went home and my little sister and I set up our tent in their spot. We were camping on our own. With the tent set up we made a fire in the designated fire pit, toasted marshmallows, and read our books with flashlights all by ourselves. Before going to bed we poured water on the fire. Half way through the night we both got scared and went back over, 20 feet and woke our parents to tell them we were scared. “Okay, just go back into the other tent.” We did and slept through the night just fine. The next morning we went over and cleaned up our equipment then went swimming. I came back to the campsite an hour later to see the campground manager soaking the ground in, and around, the fire pit with a hose. I walked over to ask what he was doing. He told me that the fire had ignited the ‘punk’ in the ground. (That’s not the first time I had ever heard that word, but it was in that reference. Another story, another time.)
“Punk?” I asked. “Yeah, all the dead needles and tree bark that gets built up in the soil. If it catches on fire it can run through the forest floor and start a big fire.”
I know that we poured water on our fire but I was scared none-the-less. I told my dad what had happened and he reminded me to pour water, stir the ashes, and then pour water again. I was sick to my stomach all day thinking that I might have started a forest fire. I am a little queasy even now with the thought and am thankful that the campground manager saw the smoke that morning.
It was many years before my next experience with fire, this one was colored with every bit of drama that Hollywood had inoculated me with. I was an auto mechanic, barely 19 at the time, and had just returned from trade school learning how to repair automobiles. My employer was working on an electric fuel injection system just outside the front of the shop while I was inside under the hood tinkering with something or other. The next thing I heard was Bob, the other young mechanic, yell FIRE. I looked up to see him jumping around in circles in front of the car my boss was working on. Ron, my boss, had pulled out all of the fuel injectors to test them. He thought that perhaps one was not working, and to his mind, the best way was to visually inspect each of them all at once. So with 8 separate fuel injectors still connected to the fuel pump, he cranked over the engine to see which one might be bad. It took just one errant spark and the engine caught fire . . . with Ron’s arm stuck under the fuel ring. A tube assembly of solid metal. The fire extinguisher was next to me on the wall. As quick as a 19 year old me could move, I grabbed the red can, rushed 20 feet to Ron and doused the flames. In my mind’s eye I saw a great towering flame of car and auto shop. Thankfully fire moves slower than it does in an action movie and both Ron and the car were saved.
There is another story in there when I went hunting and we used gasoline to start the camp fire. We will just leave it at: No lives were lost during the making of that stupidity.
Our Great State finds itself in another time of flux. The 5th largest economy in the world and we massive power outages, an untold number of fires devastating our communities and what is quickly becoming the Nation’s largest permanent indigent population. The fires? Many things contribute to this. Namely the way we manage our forests and the pressing proximity of civilization to our forests. Firefighting theory of the last century, was to extinguish fires as quickly as possible. Studies have shown that some fire is beneficial to maintaining a balance in the forest. The small underbrush was routinely burned away by the Native Americans to reduce the “ladder” fuels. Fuels that would carry the fire, like a ladder, into the canopy of the forest. Forest management is complex and not any one technique is appropriate for managing growth and reducing the danger.
Forest management aside, an argument can be made that greed and faux austerity are reasonable culprits for the remaining of the large issues affect California at this time. We have the money. We have the knowledge. Many of us even have the will to radically improve these conditions. What has failed us . . . is us. 2/3’s of registered voters still do not vote. That leaves only the diehards and those with an agenda to promote, going to the polls.
Have you given up on trying to make a difference?
Have you given up on seeing positive change in our society?
If the answer is no then get involved. Learn about your local politicians. Go to the coffee meeting they host. Listen to them speak. Reach out to them with your ideas and see how they respond. Actively support the candidate of your choice. And above all: VOTE!
Until next time,