My Local Perspective on the Rim Fire
I grew up in Calaveras County. Like all Calaveras kids, I developed this really odd skill of smelling and detecting fire smoke. Also like all Calaveras kids, I grew up with friends whose parents were fire fighters and Forest Service employees. Many dinner conversations were about forest management, and we all grew up knowing that life in the Sierra Nevada is interconnected with the health of our forests and watersheds.
Just a few weeks ago we brought our family friends to our favorite swimming spot deep in the Clavey River canyon. For those not familiar with the Clavey River, it is one of the longest undammed rivers in the Sierra Nevada and swimming there is a spectacular, unique experience. Now we’re all coming to grips with the fact that the Clavey River canyon was one of the first locations to be impacted by the Rim Fire.
Those of us who live near the Rim Fire are coming to grips with a lot these days, but the amount of community support is uplifting: Everywhere I go around Sonora, residents are chatting about the status, about how thankful they are for the fire fighters and for the support that we are receiving. That said, residents remain un-nerved. Families are packing up their belongings, animals are on edge, wildlife is appearing in unexpected areas (I just read about a pair of bear cubs running through Twain Harte) and we are watching the areas we love and recreate and work literally go up in smoke.
As I write this from the safety of my historic downtown Sonora home I’m listening to what sounds like a war zone outside. I have become a bit of an expert in the aircraft used to fight wild fires of this size, particularly the DC-10s (a turbofan-powered aircraft that carries up to 12,000 US gallons of water or fire retardant) that are constantly roaring just over our heads.
For someone that grew up in the Sierra Nevada, I understand that forest fires can be an important, normal and even healthy part of a forest’s life cycle. But poor forest management due to lack of funding, combined with two dry winters in a row has turned much of the Sierra into a tinderbox. The fact that I’m watching huge airplanes buzz right over my house while realizing that we haven’t even reached the peak of fire season is more than a little unsettling.
As what started with smoke drifting into our Mother Lode towns devolved into a state of emergency for the City of San Francisco, it’s been interesting to watch the slow realization of how intertwined we Californians are. Our forests, our watersheds, and the health and resilience of our resources impact us all. I believe, perhaps ironically, that John Muir said it best, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
Photo courtesy of Alfred Golub