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Late July, of course it was hot here in Shasta County. That was to be expected. But it was more than just hot – it was too hot. Temperatures had been soaring well above 100º for several weeks. Everything was dry – too dry.
That day was no exception. As usual, I was out tending to the animals when I heard our fire scanner sing out. I headed for the house, a feeling of dread washing over me. It announced a vegetation fire near French Gulch at Carr Power House. Soon an update informed us that it had quickly grown from 10 acres to 50 acres, 100 acres, then 300, moving at a high rate of speed, now spreading out of control.
It was heading for Whiskeytown Lake, Old Shasta, and threatening areas surrounding Redding. A mountain ridge separated us from that fast moving inferno. By late afternoon the news came that it was heading our way….
I watched as he drove slowly down our little winding road. I knew that he would be coming. He stepped out of his patrol car, pink ribbons in his hand. He looked at me solemnly. He told us that we should evacuate. He knew that we wouldn’t – that we couldn’t. He gave us an understanding look as he tied those pink ribbons on the gate, indicating that we had been warned of the approaching fire. Then he slowly drove away.
Our sanctuary is home to over 300 rescued animals. Evacuation is not an option. We were well versed in wildland fires. Informational fire meetings are held here at the farm each spring. We know the importance of being prepared. Our 0land had been well cleared, offering an abundance of defensible space. 5000 gallons of gravity flow water in tanks sit on the hill above the barn. Rainbirds are on every building and all have metal roofs, keeping aviaries and kennels safe. We were confident that we had done all that we could to make sure that our home, land and animals would be safe. Now we would wait, watch and pray.
The skies grew darker, ash began to fall like snowflakes, covering the farm. Borate planes flew overhead. The thick smell of smoke in the air made it hard to breathe. My dogs clung to me like Velcro. The animals, sensing the danger, looked to me for reassurance. Stay calm – stay calm, I kept thinking. Bob would let me know when to panic.
Those pink ribbons swaying on the gate kept me informed as to which way the wind was carrying the fire. Sheriff’s deputies, our friends from CalFire, and officers from Fish and Wildlife stopped in often to update us as to how far the Carr Fire had advanced. By that first night, it had not yet jumped Clear Creek Road. We were still safe at that point.
I thought of our friends who were in the path of this unbelievably destructive inferno who no doubt were packing and preparing to evacuate. Those pink ribbons on the gate reminded me that this was just the beginning.
The calls started coming, concerned friends checking on our safety, others with offers of help. My son, John, and granddaughter, Chelsee, so far away in Michigan, called every hour. Their voices cracked as they said “Please stay safe; we love you”. My brother, Joe and his wife, Candace in North Carolina, concern evident in their voices. They were all glued to the news channel. “We’re fine, we’re OK”, I tried to reassure them. I wasn’t very convincing.
The next morning our road was still closed to incoming traffic. The farm was quiet, too quiet. No 5:00AM paper carrier, no Kathy delivering the mail, no Juan in his big green garbage truck. Through the smoke the roosters still crowed, the peacocks still called out and the pink ribbons still swayed on the gate.
I kept up my routine of feeding, chores, watering and milking my precious goats, Bon Bon and Seafoam. I found comfort in resting my head on their chest as I milked, feeling their breathing slow and steady. We waited and watched for 5 long days while the firefighters fought to protect us. At last we heard the news that the fire was heading away from the farm. We had been spared.
Our thoughts are now with all who have been affected by this horrific tragedy. Please stay safe, be prepared. For now, I’ll take down those pink ribbons on my gate.Click here for more fire stories.