My friend and Nugget Newspaper freelancer Gary Miller took that shot of fire on the interior of the Milli Fire on Sunday night, from a vantage point at the southwest corner of Sisters.
It captures something primal.
Ceili and I saw the red glow in the sky over the treeline in our back yard and headed down to town at about 11 p.m. to get a look — though we couldn’t capture it the way Gary did. And even that fine photograph misses something — the inhale/exhale of the fire breathing.
A dragon has landed upon Black Crater — my sacred mountain — and laid waste to the countryside hereabouts. And yet, despite appearances, it will not be the Desolation of Smaug.
Ceili and I ventured out a tour of some of the fire area on Saturday, on the east side of the blaze where the heat’s been knocked out of it. As always, there’s a lot of severe damage, but also a lot of intact survival. When observed from afar as they get up and run, fires look like an angry red wall of destruction marching across the countryside. But they don’t really burn like that. There are swaths of destruction next to lightly burned areas and some spots are bypassed altogether.
The landscape is changed, but not ruined. Fire is a natural part of the scheme of things in this country — though admittedly not on the scale that we’ve endured for the past 15 years or so.
Fire brings good along with the bad. Wildlife — especially birds — will run rampant as they feed off the insects that come in to feed off the burned timber. There will be some short-term negative impacts on riparian areas from runoff, etc., but there may be long term benefits to the aquifer as the dense layer of duff burns away, allowing more percolation of surface water into the aquifer. What we’ve really got to hope for now is that the first rains of autumn are gentle and not gullywashers.
There are a lot of management changes that could be enacted that would be beneficial — increased selective logging to give trees space; a vastly increased budget for prescribed treatments, which both reintroduce healthy fire into the forest and create fire breaks against rampant wildfire. All that costs money, which is increasingly tight for the Forest Service, and any kind of logging draws resistance from obstructionist interest groups driven more by ideology than by passion for the landscape.
The fire has been disruptive. Our family was evacuated for five days. The smoke has been very bad. I’ve been continuing my Frontier Partisan biathlon workouts despite it, but I feel it. The Anvil Blasters have continued gigging — and adding a little Steve Earle rasp to the vocals is no bad thing.
The atmosphere is oppressive, with a heavy pall of thick smoke in the air and a sun that looks like a blood orange filtering through to bathe the countryside in an eerie, otherworldly light. But it ain’t Houston, and it’s best to bear that in mind.
We carry on, knowing that the dragon will at long last be slain; autumn will bring crisp blue skies again — and hopefully a nice, gentle rain storm or two to settle the ash and inaugurate the inevitable and beautiful natural process of healing and renewal.