Thursday, August 29, 2013

Still, it taunts . . .

I've stepped away from the phone and the computer, relatively speaking, since the mandatory evacuations were lifted. We're no longer expecting a deputy knocking at the door or a reverse 9-1-1 call which kept me close to home.

Did I include any of the graphics about the behavior of the Rim Fire, still burning around and encroaching into Yosemite National Park? I know I didn't include this one, which is provided as a comparison of the size of the fire with the cities of the San Francisco Bay area. Click on it and you will see a tiny airplane on the lower edge of the western point of the yellow. That's where I live.

Close enough. This comparison is a day or two old. The report at 7 p.m.tonight pegged the area burned as 199,237 acres, 32% contained. They're expecting full containment by September 20. September 20! It started on August 17. Fire behavior is still rated as very active, with 4,927 personnel involved. The most up-to-date release about the incident can be found here.

One thing to keep in mind in looking at maps is NOT to assume that everything within the perimeter is gone. The firefighters take mighty stands where people live, so there are enclaves within the perimeter of areas not burned.

These are maps from last night. The almost solid brown-red is not part of the color coding. This is a chart of the first time fire activity was recorded in a place. This gives an overall view of fire duration, with the bright dots somewhat more recent.

The bright red squares are newer activity, so we still have these nearby areas that flare up and put out plumes of smoke, and the aircraft activity overhead resumes. Just enough so we can't really relax in our area. It's not over yet for people on the other fronts. I live about a quarter of the way from the lower little airplane and the lake that looks like a little animal with a long tail below.

See? Taunting plumes of smoke. I've learned a new term: pyrocumulus -- fire-created cumulus clouds. (I don't know whether that's the official definition. I'm going by context.) These are shots from Monday, August 26, from downtown.

When I got home, I took a walk up the hill to see what it looked like in the neighborhood. There are signs of fresh heat beyond the tree tops, but the smoke more and more stretches horizontally along a broad line, rather than in towering plumes.

Uncharacteristically, I continued on around the block. There were people to be seen in and around some of the houses. Coming home. This little -- actually, pretty good sized -- weather vane whirled vigorously and it was hard catching this side view. This is a favorable wind direction for us now.

On Tuesday I had a dental appointment in the Little City Down the Hill. At almost noon, the smoke down here is thicker than at home. But the fire is closer here now than it has been.

No break from the smoke here.

 When I get back to My Little Town, there's another big new plume out in the distance.

Later in the day, little clouds that had been skittering around, begin to looks like they might develop into something -- hoping for rain without lightning.

Rain did not materialize.

Let's not forget this is Thursday and I haven't done a Thursdays Out at NeedleCrafts for quite awhile. I've taken a photo or two from time to time, but not enough to carry a whole blog, so I owe a little catch-up here.

This is Judith, just returned from wintering in Hawaii, all tanned and healthy. The person with the arm, who shall remain nameless, is leaning out of frame so as not to display her winter white look. This is from earlier in the summer.

Just loved all the colors in this pile of yarn.

 For months, Paula was crocheting all these blocks. She's making an afghan for ... someone. . .

. . . and the due date is drawing near, so she puts them all together.

Not only is this soooo-soft yarn, I love the sparkly label.

Today Barbara came in with a pumpkin, a knit pumpkin. It's larger than it appears here. It's pumpkin-sized. She is working on the leaves.

Today I finished this block for my Tile Quilt, made with French blue and white fabrics. I think I've gotten through a total of five. My plan was that I could work on this for years and years so I wouldn't have to think of new hand projects but I went through a list of planned and in progress hand projects that moved into my new quilting room from the storage shed, and I want to get to them, too!

We're eating out locally these days. A lot. This should be the big season before the winter lull for our local merchants. We have lots of fire-related personnel in town, but not the usual Labor Day weekend tourists going to Yosemite, nor to a big music festival up the road which had to be cancelled. They count on this trade to tide them over the winter and they have lost out. Daughter is coming up for the weekend to bring back the things she evacuated from my house, so we, Sister and Brother-in-Law will foreswear cooking and dishwashing in favor of contributing to the local economy!

See you soon.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

It's okay to come home now . . .

The the Rim Fire began Saturday, August 17. Within the first couple of days, the highway to Yosemite was closed east of here as the fire crossed over. This route into Yosemite Valley remains closed, but alternate routes in are available, and encroachments of the fire into the National Park have not affected services in the Valley.

This sign has been posted at the entrance to our development since the advisory warnings to evacuate were declared.

Early this evening, we who've followed every acre of this fire via Facebook read:

Evacuation Advisories Lifted for Pine Mountain Lake and Buck Meadows
Release for Saturday, August 24, 2013/Time: 2:00 PM
Evacuated residents from Highway 120 east to Buck Meadows and residents of Pine Mountain Lake, with exception of Graham Ranch Road beyond the cattle guard, will be allowed to return to their homes beginning on Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 6:00 P.M. Residents along Graham Ranch Road, beyond the cattle guard, can expect to return as soon as fire conditions allow. Only residents and those that can prove they have legitimate business in the area will be allowed in. Pacific Gas and Electric has restored electrical service to all areas of Pine Mountain Lake impacted by the Rim Fire, with the exception of residences along Graham Ranch Road beyond the cattle guard. 

Our development is divided into units. Only three units, those closest to the fire, were under mandatory evacuation. The rest of us were under evacuation advisories.  If you've read my blog in the past few days, you know I didn't take the advice. Whether it's hunch, confidence or something else, I just felt like I wouldn't need to leave.

Thank you, Firefighters. (Photo from our association)

A sense that this might be wrapping up began to hang in the air perhaps a day or two ago. Always with the "unless things change" disclaimer. There was no less smoke in the air this morning than any other since it started. The sun rises as a red ball and smoke hangs in every direction like fog, only it doesn't feel good to breathe it. It was reassurances, "you'll be okay, you'll be okay," from the men in the mosaic of uniforms that led to the optimism.

I put out food early this morning for the accumulated kittens, but there wasn't a lot left in the container and I wasn't awake enough to go out to the garage and get more. They stared reproachfully in the window until I finally got up and remedied the situation.

At about 1:30 I went out to check the smoke plume. Speculation was strong that the mandatory evacuation would be lifted. The chief spy at the airport reported that the power had been turned on in that unit. No smoke plume could be seen up my street!

So why was I hearing aircraft flying again?

Eventually one of our Facebook reporters said there was still a hot spot out beyond the rim. Reopening the closed units might be delayed. I'd better not unpack the car yet. I went out at 6:15 to take a look. The sound of flights in the air had become alarmingly steady. It took a few steps up the street to see the plume this time.

I walked farther up the street, hoping for a better view, while at the same time knowing there are trees and buildings and another hill between my street and any view out of here. This helicopter lowered steadily with its suction tube extended below, and eased down over a water tank set out to refill from. I couldn't see the tank but somewhere I'd seen pictures of them. He flew out of there lower than the tree tops.

Moments later, a larger (or at least heftier-looking) helicopter dangling a bucket flew toward the fire.

On the street corner leading into the airport, two out-of-town police cars monitored who could and couldn't access the airport.

The big helicopter with the bucket heads back for a refill. I decide to head for the lake to see whether that's where he's been going, hoping to get one of those swell scooping pictures.

There is no one in the parking lot, no one on this beach, just this abandoned sand castle.

 Looking at this now, are these buoys set up in an unusual manner? This doesn't seem like the usual boundary marker arrangement for the swimming area.

Some real clouds, not just smoke clouds, are gathering.

I waited awhile, but no helicopter showed up, and the sand in my sandals hurt like crazy when I tried to walk, so I headed back to the car and into town to check the mail and to see the thank you signs that were being posted around town. Fire trucks (or actually, I think this bunch was labeled Urban Search & Rescue . . . Daughter and I had seen them roll into town on Wednesday evening) had gathered in the grocery store parking lot, perhaps destined to join the string of red trucks I'd seen trickling out of town.

Whether they get to go home I don't know. The fire is leaving us, but it is moving on. It's at over 125,000 acres and I don't think we know yet whether today's efforts have stopped its rush toward communities down-canyon from here. Those DC-10s and other aircraft were laying down lines of protection.

I haven't smelled the smoke settle yet tonight, but I'll still close my windows for the night. It was really a very pleasant day outside, for those of us living in limbo.

Tomorrow I'll have to get back to work.  Maybe, if things don't change, even unpack the car.


Friday, August 23, 2013

There are things I could do while a fire is on . . .

. . . but instead I'm pretty much doing nothing but tracking the fire

To do list:

  1. Soroptimist newsletter, already severely overdue
  2. Unpack boxes that got packed up during the room addition (which includes virtually everything I own)
  3. Refine the evacuation items in my suitcase in the car
  4. Clean off and/or organize my desk(s)
  5. You get the idea . . .
I'm doing:
  1. Only the minimals of survival
Daughter got up at 4 a.m. to leave for work, and the realization that the whole responsibility for hearing a truck with a loudspeaker announcing evacuation, should it come to that, was mine alone. I began setting my alarm clock in 30 minute intervals, to wake up and check the websites for changes in the fire or areas to be evacuated.  When daughter left, the smoke outside was thick, and inside too. After about three rounds of this, with nothing being updated online,  I called security and determined that there'd been no change overnight, then promptly fell sound asleep. I could swear I watched the beginning of the Today Show at 7, but caller ID tells me that that's when Sister first tried to call me to make sure I was alive. But I didn't answer. I didn't answer until a much later call that woke me up. 

On the must-do list, give Chloe her meds, smooshed up in cat food, and send the boys into the kitten room with their treats so they won't eat her medicated food. They're usually jumping at the door handle before she finishes and I thought I heard the jump, but when I went into the room, I saw Jean-Luc on top of a cat tree and no signs of Henley from the doorway. Until I saw a little brown paw sticking out. It appears the noise I thought was a cat rattling the door handle was really a cat knocking the clock askew. 


No interest in dashing madly out of the room. (What thoughts are going on behind those glassy stares?)

Chloe, the cause of their confinement.

I'd become so engrossed in following the status of the fire for days that I forgot to go to the bank to deposit checks from the computer club BBQ three days earlier or go to the post office to pick up the mail for four boxes.

The bank has been undergoing a face lift. New stairs. Use ramp.

I'm getting new views of the fire's main plume. This is the view from the bank parking lot.

And the view from the post office parking lot.

 Some kind of satellite -- I'm guessing it's a transmitter -- in the grocery store parking lot (behind the pickup truck)

Were these motor homes on their way to Yosemite, only to be turned away by the fire, and seeking refuge under the trees behind the grocery store?

It's very quiet in town. I guess a lot of people have evacuated. I wondered how it was down at the lake. There's what looks like the leading edge of the smoke plume, although more could be ahead of it down in the canyon.

An active plume farther east . . .

 There is only a handful of people on the beach or in the rafts.

 The Hobies are beached.

The water taxis float silently.

The boat patrol is silent.

These little canoe-looking things are grounded.

This Hobie has grown into the ground.

The huge houses on the hill must have an amazing (and scary) view of the plume.

And suddenly, there's a new hot spot flaring up and I panic. It looks so close. Could it be near my house? I must get right home to my kitties, in case we need to evacuate. Even though I've been so cool all along. Even though I feel in my heart that these firefighters out there will pull us through this okay. Even though I'm afraid to say it, for fear I'll jinx it.

There was a community meeting tonight at the elementary school tonight to get a fire update and prognostications for the days to come. I'd originally intended to go to the meeting, but after my reaction this afternoon, I wanted to stick close to home. There was a report of the meeting on the local Facebook page and there's one little quote from it that sticks in my head.

It was asked of the Tuolumne County Sheriff's representative, local product, LT Ruckman (born and raised in Big Oak Flat) why resources were wasted to go door to door for the evacuation of units 11, 11A and 12 instead of just using the reverse 911. His answer, and I thought this was priceless, was, "I can answer that very simply. Because your life is too important to take a chance on a phone call." (Cheers from the audience)

Could I end with anything more perfect than that?


Thursday, August 22, 2013

More waiting for fire news . . .

I had such a good opportunity to start this at a reasonable hour of the evening. Daughter went to bed early . . . she has to get up at four a.m. to get to work in the morning. She will be taking my photos and art work and quilts with her, to keep them out of the path of the fire. If a mandatory evacuation order comes out, I will go to her house with my kitties, a small bag of clothes, all my pill bottles tossed in a huge box (kidding just a little), cords for all my electronic equipment, and my passport. Our vehicles are packed. All we need are the live creatures and to yank out the few last cords charging phones and computers.

A goodly number of our local residents have evacuated. We got something like a level 2 notice re evacuation this evening, meaning essentially that the next one is for real . . . time to leave for sure. Although they seem to be required to advise us that they cannot make us leave against our wills.

Daughter would have left by now. I made my parents who were quite elderly at the time leave when a fire was at the door. So why am I dragging my heels? I guess I'm more annoyed by the thought of evacuating and then not having needed to, than waiting until I know I need to. I finally figured out that my low stress level is probably due to the mild anti-depressant I've been taking to recover from a trauma or two. And the wind is in a favorable -- for us -- direction this evening.

That can change at any time, of course. The fire tripled over Wednesday night. Tonight we are at 63,633 acres burned.

But I didn't get started early, because I was doing a long perusal of the most up-to-date fire information before going to bed.

Here goes my first try at embedding a video. It was taken, I believe on Tuesday, by Camp Tuolumne Trails, a camp for children with special needs. The camp was built by a generous family  with a lot of community support on a woodsy spread of land overlooking a canyon. The fire was burning at the outskirts of the camp property when this happenened. Turn up the sound to hear the dialogue.

Sister and Brother-in-Law arrived at San Francisco airport after a long flight from London on Tuesday afternoon, anxious to get up here to the mountains to evacuate two treasured sports cars and some family paintings. Their flight arrived on time but the baggage carrousel wasn't in a cooperative mood and passengers from several flights were delayed for two hours waiting for luggage to be disgorged onto the conveyor belt.

Sister phoned me as they got on the BART train for the 1¼ hour trip from the airport to their city abode. They'd leave for the mountain residence as soon as possible. Hours later they arrived, lots of hours. The BART had been almost "home" when it had to be stopped for a medical emergency, for another hour's wait. Sister and BIL were jet-lagged and exhausted, but still evacuated one of their cars that evening after they arrived up here. Today they came over to pick up their vacation mail and leave off a large cat carrier that Jean-Luc and Henley can share.

After their departure, daughter and I went on a drive-about, taking pictures of smoke and talking with a fireman from far out of town. Darn . . . I didn't take pictures of the varieties of fire rigs that are flowing into town from all over the state, if not the country, and spreading out through our development.

These were taken in the area of our airport and stables/horse people. (I just wondered at the logic of that combo.)

This is a little closer out to the edge of the canyon. This smoke may possibly be even another ridge over. All of these areas are under mandatory evacuation tonight.

The photos above were taken in the early afternoon. This one below was taken in the late afternoon, looking straight up the road from my house. It's hard knowing directions on all these twisty streets, but I'd guess this is ENE of us. The winds were coming from the south, so it has moved farther northward. If it keeps going that way, we're good. In my own narrow little focus, I haven't looked at a map to see what it's heading towards. But it's one big MF for whomever it is downwind of it and we can only hope that the fabulous air and ground firefighters that are streaming in will be able to knock it down.

We'll see what we shall see as to how soon I'll be able to post again. If I'm still at home tomorrow, I'll try to do it then. If I'm evacuated, my internet access might be iffy.