Returning from a hike with the dogs, I noticed a smoke column in the distance. The fire was blowing up, as evidenced by the height and boiling cumulus type cloud above it. I feel the same mimxed emotions I always have, but different. I loved being a firefighter. I mean, I really loved it, more than anyone else I know. It was years ago, but that doesn’t matter. Does it matter for any memory, how long ago it was? It hasn’t been tinged with rose-colored glasses. I remember it all.

I mostly worked on the line, not at camp, though I did end up doing some radio stuff later on. That wasn’t the same, though. When I left, it was for practical purposes. I knew that I needed to make some money, stop beating my body up for work, and stop breathing in smoke. I missed it, though. There was camaraderie, excitement, and purpose in it, though there was also drudgery, inexplicable orders, and terror.

It’s different now though. We used to swoop in to unknown country, dig fireline, and leave. Though I felt sad for the displaced people, I wasn’t emotionally invested. If anything, I wondered why they built houses so surrounded by forest, why they didn’t clear out the brush and firewood stacked by their houses. But mostly the people were an afterthought. There was so much else to think about, like staying alive.

When we were on level 2 evacuation (get set) five years ago, my perspective changed. Suddenly, I was the one in danger, and even though our house was surrounded by big trees, it also has water on two sides. Fire had never been a threat before. I rushed through the house, trying to decide what was important. I moved the cats and dogs. I felt very alone. 

On the most critical day, when winds gusted to 30, I thought we would lose it all. It was just stuff, I told myself. But it is still heartbreaking to think about. I was working on another fire, on the helibase radio, when the rain began. It seemed like a miracle. 

My perspective has shifted. Fires have changed. I used to tromp through the forest thinking that fire was a natural process and it was doing good things, renewing the forest. That is still true for 99% of fires, but there is now that 1%, the catastrophic fire. When I went to Yellowstone during the fires of 1988, everyone was saying this type of fire would be once in a lifetime. That has turned out to be almost every large fire now.

I think about the people of Troy, evacuated now, for the second time in five years. I hope everyone is all right.