Today I read that the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon is the top priority fire in the country.
It began Tuesday afternoon in the vicinity of Slide Rock State Park where I was at work. I looked up the path to see flames crowning the top of a ponderosa pine. It is a moment I will never forget. Smoke was billowing up in mushroom shaped clouds. Between where I was and the fire were dozens of people, many in swimming suits. Some people were running towards the exit with hats blowing off in the strong wind gusts. Others were transfixed, staring at the spectacle. The majority were carrying cameras and cellphones, some snapping quick pictures, one guy was running toward the fire with his tripod in one hand dragging along a crying toddler in the other. It was mayhem. Mayhem in a couple dozen languages as Slide Rock attracts visitors from around the globe. If you are ever in such a situation, I found that "EVACUATION" was the word that seemed to be understood by most. Pointing at the smoke and saying "fire" almost always resulted in a smile and a search for the camera.
Thanks to the outstanding dedication of the park rangers, there were no casualties at the park. Everyone was evacuated as firefighters worked the steep canyon walls with all they had. Slide Rock is at the widest spot in the 17 mile-long canyon. It is the only place helicopters can land. Soon the choppers arrived and started dropping water on the flames fighting strong wind gusts to do their best to halt the spread. This is what our taxes pay for. Regular people, risking their health and lives for the good of us all. These are our government workers and they deserve our gratitude and every penny they get paid.
I am not a government employee, by the way.
Wednesday, the strong winds continued, spreading the out of control fire northward. The canyon is completely evacuated north of slide rock, thanks to DPS, sheriffs department, Coconino national forest service and others, no casualties reported in the canyon. All hikers, campers, visitors and residents rescued from back country trails, campgrounds and homes. Good thing we have these government types watching our backs. 450 acres burned by Wednesday morning grew to nearly 5000 acres later in the day. We didn't get our "normal" winter snow here and the forest is suffering under drought conditions. The combination of drought, strong winds and fire makes this a particularly dangerous and unpredictable fire. It has caused spot fires from blowing debris so there is no safe place to be. Fire lines have been jumped several times and the fire is 0% contained. The plan of action today is to keep the fire from jumping across the canyon to the east while fire teams north of the fire build another fire line to stop the race toward Flagstaff. I have been getting most of my information from in Inciweb.nwcg.gov as well as state and federal employees.
I live about 2 miles south of Slide Rock. This place is my forever home. Just a 1963 single-wide trailer, but it's mine. (This is only my 3rd diary, previously I wrote about losing my home in Georgia to foreclosure.). So I am worried. Couldn't get insurance due to the Brins fire a few years back. Yeah, I'm really worried as I watch the sky glow orange and red at night. Seeing flames, that's a whole other level of fear. Last night I walked up the closed highway around midnight, all the way to the park without a flashlight. It was incredible. The wind was still blowing smoke to the north and the sliver of canyon sky was filled with stars. It seemed I could just reach up and touch them. Oak Creek was roaring to my right and I actually forgot my fear as I soaked in my surroundings. The winding uphill walk was a Zen-like experience. As I walked around the last curve before reaching the park the smoke covered the stars. 20 feet further I could smell smoke and see flames licking the canyon walls at the park. Suddenly the wind came from the north as I rounded the curve and ash was falling from the sky like snow in the brilliant flashing lights from the DPS officer manning the roadblock. I looked up the incline from the road to the park and realized how very fortunate my life is. I have found my paradise on earth. And no matter what comes, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.