Thursday, August 29, 2013
I've seen the sun look like this. It was in 1964. I remember there were a lot of fires in the hills above Rincon Valley when I was a kid. Usually they burned ten or fifteen acres of somebody's pasture where some teenagers were smoking or lighting off fireworks. Rincon Valley Volenteer Fire Department would come out with their engines and dads would head up the hill with wet blankets and shovels, and a brigade of kids with shovels or hoes or maybe nothing at all would be stationed a safe distance from the flames. 1964 was different. The Hanley Fire burned 52,000 acres from Mt. St Helena to Brush Creek Road. The Nunn fire was spreading east from Kenwood. We all listened to KSRO to find out how close the fires were. They reported that they were evacuating Community Hospital. (Or County Hospital, or Sutter, or whatever.) Folks were watering their roofs. Highway 12 was crowded with evacuees. We sat at the top of our hill looking out over the valley and watched the red glow, sometimes an occasional flare when an oak tree burned. Or maybe a barn or a house. We'd have seen the same looking east if the the hills hadn't blocked our view. More than 300 structures burned, 150 homes. I was more afraid then than I've ever been. The next day, half the desks at Sequoia Elementary were empty. We knew where the fire had burned - we could see it. We knew whose ranches were burned. Those kids weren't at school that day. And as the sun lowered into the smoke-filled horizon, it became an orange disc in a haze of grey. Much like the picture.