Reporter reflects on 49er inferno
Fire has seared my life twice.
The first time was 20 years ago. I was 15 and living with my mom, dad and sister in Lake Wildwood when the 49er Fire struck Nevada County and burned 34,000 acres.
My parents were tuned into a football game while my little sister and I watched the hills around our home burn. The sky was thick with smoke, the sun burned red, and charred leaves and twigs rained from the sky.
By the time my parents ventured outside to see what all the fuss was about, they realized we were in trouble.
“We had never been in a fire like that before,” my dad remembered.
We drove up the hill and watched as a large house surrounded by fire engines became engulfed when the wind changed. We watched firefighters scramble for their lives under their fire proof blankets. Helicopters flew frantically scooping buckets of water from the lake and doused burning homes and exploding trees. Our tranquil neighborhood had turned into a war zone.
When we were told to evacuate, mom packed us kids and a box of family photos into the car and we fled with a steady stream of other nervous looking families until we found a seedy motel in the concrete heart of Yuba City.
My dad stayed behind to protect the house. He was what he calls “one of the fools with a garden hose.”
It was the first time I witnessed fire’s destructive power. Fire crews armed with water tenders and helicopters couldn’t keep the flames from swallowing up houses and forests in an instant.
In 2002, numerous lightning strikes started fires in wilderness areas of South Western Oregon. The Biscuit Fire, as it was later known, burned nearly 500,000 acres of forested land.
In the middle of the night, my husband, small son and I were evacuated when fierce winds caused the fire to jump the Smith River and burn within a mile of our five acres.
We lived out of our car, camped out on beaches and showered at a temporary Red Cross shelter for a week while we prayed for firefighters to spare our rustic cabin.
Now Tahoe is up in smoke and fire officials predict it’s a matter of time before we see similar scenarios in western Nevada County.
But all is not hopeless. We don’t have to sit back and wring our hands. Instead, let’s use the tools we know work.
Clear dead and dying brush 100 feet from your home. Limb trees, clear pine needles from the gutters. Map several exit routes in case the main roads become closed. We all know fire is an inevitable fact of life in California. Let’s preserve the communities we love by doing our part.
For tips on how to protect your home by clearing defensible space and planting fire safe landscaping visit:
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion .com or call 477-4231.
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