Friday, July 6, 2012

Fighting the Fire Dragon, Quail Fire

It has been a stressful few days around here.  I'll start at the beginning, because I think people will get a laugh out of this.

Tuesday afternoon, my phones (land and cell) started ringing about the same time.  Can't remember one of them, then a daughter with questions at the store, then a couple of others.  Some (one?) I had to just let go to voicemail.  When I went to pick it up, it was a friend from out in the Eagle Mountain area, WAY far away for all intents and purposes.  She was wondering how we were doing because she'd just looked out her window and saw we had a big fire out here.

Huh? I walked out into the back yard, looked at the sky, sniffed the air, listened...  I thought for a minute I might have heard a siren, but then it was gone.  I had NO IDEA what she was talking about.  Yeah, I walked out the wrong door.  Shortly thereafter, maybe five minutes, (who knows?) one of the kids walked in and said, um, you should come look at the smoke out here.  This is what we saw:  

 Yep, Alpine was burning, and it could be seen for MILES!  Lots of thoughts went through my mind.  In addition to current concerns, which weren't small, there was past experience to be dealt with.  Not just mine, but most of the kids as well.

See, nine years ago, we were evacuated during the Cedar Fire in San Diego.  Our community got off easy.  We "only" lost 18 homes.  The fire took more than 2200 total.  And my kids remember, they remember the black smoke behind us as we left.  They remember the smells, the watching, the waiting. And the ones who didn't remember had older ones to tell them.

Then there are the current concerns.  Not only do we have our home here, but we can't just run out the door.  Even if the fire was at the doorstep, it does take at least a few minutes to switch to an oxygen tank, switch the ventilator to an away mode, and grab Aaron and get out the door.  So not knowing exactly where and how fast the fire was moving, we moved into high gear.

First we moved all the oxygen out of the house and into the car.  Then it was the photos, and other memorabilia.  While this was happening, Aaron decided he wasn't real happy either.  His heart rate climbed, his oxygen saturation dipped.  So I gave him the first of many breathing treatments he'd get over the next few days.  And the whole time, the clouds of smoke are getting bigger and blacker.

Everything Aaron would need was put in his room.  His food and meds went into a cooler that could be grabbed quickly.  Extra supplies were in the car.  I tried to think of everything.  Because while the Red Cross can help you with clean clothes and a toothbrush, they don't stock ventilator circuits, inhallation water, or pulse/oximeter probes.  They may serve dinner, but they don't have pediatric formulas or g-tube supplies.  We organized who was to get and grab what medical equipment, and in what order if we had to leave.  A plan was made as we also prayed we wouldn't have to put it into practice.

I called up to our wonderful home vent coordinator at Primarys and we came up with a treatment plan.  Instead of giving Aaron breathing treatments as he needed them, we decided to give them scheduled around the clock.  This way we would try to stay ahead of the eight ball.  I also put another filter on his ventilator.  Then we had a talk.  I told him that all his friends at the fire station were busy trying to help other people  He needed to behave, because they were needed elsewhere.  And guess what?  Happy, wonderful child that he is, he did.  He didn't sleep.  No, not that.  On the albuterol, his heart rate was elevated enough that he was awake for the better part of the next 48 hours.  But at least he was happy, and breathing.  Two things we're very grateful for!!

So the watching process began.  The fire waxed and waned.  It climbed our beautiful mountains.  Planes came in dropping retardant.  And we had prime seating for the whole show, right outside our door.

Day 1  A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

As near as can be figured, the fire started about 2:30 up in the northeast corner of Alpine.  We live at the south end of town. This picture was taken about 3:15 p.m. of a ridge to the northeast of our home.

By evening, the evacuation lines had been drawn all the way down the side of our little town.  The mandatory line of demarcation was only three blocks to the east of us.

This night picture is the only one that we didn't take ourselves from our own home.  When night fell, the mountain had a decidedly Mordor-esque look to it.  The boys, most of them still very nervous, opted to sleep in David and Jonathan's room, on the opposite side of the house, so they wouldn't be able to see the flames.  Mary slept in Deborah's room because she didn't want to be all the way in the basement, away from everyone else.  (Deborah was working a graveyard shift and was gone that evening.)  Before bed and Deborah's shift, we knelt in prayer, grateful for our safety so far and asking for moisture, for strength for the firefighters, and for wisdom to make decisions that would keep us safe.

I wasn't sure how sleeping would go that night, but decided that with two nurses (one was orienting that night) on watch in the living room, if anything changed, we would find out quickly.  Once I went to sleep, I slept well.

Day 2, July 4th, Independence Day

 Morning came, and it smelled like we had a campfire going.  The mountain appeared to be smoldering more than anything at that time.  The winds had shifted during the night and blew the smoke back down into our valley.  And it still reminded me of the scenes of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings.

The Blackhawk helicopters were flying all day. It was a bit surreal to be working or reading and hear the whump, whump, whump of the rotors. But also, oh so reassuring to know they were working so hard. One would pass, dump the water, and fly off, and within a minute or two, the second was coming in.

The fire rose and fell as it encountered different terrain, and different fuels. When the pines went up, especially the old copses, it would flare ferociously. And I would hold my breath, wondering how much closer it would come.


As night fell, the fire fought to crest another ridge.  It fought and won that particular battle.  See, while it's an unnerving reminder of what is happening to hear the helicopters, when night falls, the sound goes, too.  It's not safe for them to fly at night.  So at night, the firefighters shift to a defensive position and simply (strange word, "simply" to describe what they're doing -- putting their lives on the line for us) maintain the lower levels.

 About 10 o'clock on the 4th, about the time the fireworks shows were getting going, the mountain put on a spectacular show of it's own.  I'm told that the flames could be seen from miles away, clear up into the Salt Lake Valley, and across the lake into the western part of our county.  I wouldn't know.   Again, our seats were up front and personal.  Mary and William watched from the front porch and Mary said they could hear the fire.  It was that loud.

Here is the progression over about six minutes.  One in particular looked decidedly like the dragon it was imitating.  We took that picture and blew it up for our firefighters.  Then I took it over to the station today.

We went to bed that night still praying for rain.  The terrain is so rugged and steep.  It is the side of a mountain.  There is only so much that man can do about this.

Day 3  Prayers are answered

We wake again to the smell of smoke, but something else as well.  It has been dry here, so very dry.  That's why the mountain (and all the other areas around the west) have been going up so fast.  But this morning, this wonderful morning, I felt humidity in the air.  And there were clouds, normal clouds with water in them, not smoke.

Then is started to drizzle.  I found out later that it had been sprinkling down in American Fork when Deborah took out the trash at work.  She said she was afraid she probably woke the neighborhood in her glee.

After the drizzle, came the rain.  And it rained and rained, a fairly gentle but steady rain for quite a while.  Every time I thought about the rain, I wanted to cry.  Such an answer to prayer.  Did it put the fire out?  No, it didn't.  But it bought some ground and some time.  We went from 10% contained in the morning to 50% by evening.

It was cool, down in the low 70's from the upper 90's the day before.  The boys played in the rain, and we unloaded the car. 

Mary baked just over 160 pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins, a family favorite that we took over to the incident command center at the high school this morning.  I hope they enjoyed them.

Day 4

The mountain one year ago,
and then yesterday
I continued to listen to the helicopters throughout today as I worked. But it's a very different feel than three days ago. Although our view is now different, there is hope.  Tonight we're have 65% containment. The Red Cross evacuation center at the middle school is now closed. They're starting to pull the firefighters off the lines and send them elsewhere, to fight other fires. Because fire season isn't over, not by a long shot.   

And through it all, Aaron just kept smiling.  As the rain started to fall, he finally fell asleep.  And slept most of the day away.  At rest, like my heart.

And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them 
from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.


  1. Those are some incredible photos! I'm so glad Aaron "behaved" after your little talk! I hate to imagine the logistical nightmare of an evacuation with our special needs kiddos, but it sure sounds like you were pretty prepared!

  2. Amazing. I'm so glad that things worked out that you didn't have to evacuate and Aaron did so well. We currently live in San Diego, and moved here just a couple of weeks before the October '07 firestorm. I remember how scary it was, especially not knowing the area. I can only imagine what you must have been feeling this week. I'm sure those people enjoyed the muffins. :)