Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where There's Smoke...

Sunday July 1 2012

I'm in bed, trying to yell. Someone's outside the door, and I'm not scared, but I'm trying to yell, to let them know I'm here. But I can't yell. It comes out muffled. I try again several times, doesn't work. I try yelling again and lifting my hands. The hand movement wakes me up - and I smell smoke.

Holy Crap! That's wildfire smoke I smell and it's heavy, and it's blowing outside - maybe 10 mph with 15 mph gusts.

It's 3:21 AM.

Being fire-spooked lately by the Colorado Springs wildfire (my brother was evacuated for 5 days; their house was spared), I'm already half in panic mode as I grab a flashlight and shoes and leap outside wide awake.

I immediately see a blazing light! - but that's the near-full moon on the western horizon through the trees. But why is the moon orange?

I step further away from the creek trees to get a better view of the sky. Even with the moonlight I can make out smoke in the air but I don't see an obvious looming wall of fire. But we live in a drainage at the junction of 2 creeks - my view is limited by hills on 3 sides of us. I can't see up on the flats. I see a glow in the sky to the northwest, where the wind is blowing from… that's probably Nampa/Boise. But are the city lights that far west? Or is it something else making that glow?

I head for the ridge, for the ten-minute climb up onto the flats. I can see the smoke is thick through the moonlight. I can feel it in my lungs as I breathe it. It's burning my eyes.

Only two things besides Wildfire! - How close?? on that uphill march pop into my head. One is, Where are the Wire Cutters? I know where one pair hangs in the horse-less barn, and I have another sturdy pair right by my door, but bolt cutters would be great. We don't have bolt cutters. Do you know how hard it is to cut through a tight barbed wire fence with just the wire cutters? It can be done, but if you're talking about cutting fence in a hurry, you're talking 4 strands of doubled wire - and likely more than one cut in a fence. (Of course if you're in a panic, adrenaline will probably help you chomp right through those wires.)

The other thing that I think of is, we should have grease pencils to mark our horses with our phone number.

The hike to the ridge in the strong wind is slightly panicky and eye-watering and lung-burning - and un-revealing. At the highest point on the flats, I still see nothing but the glow on the horizon (it must still be Nampa/Boise), but no flames licking the sky, no glow dancing on the horizon, no clue of any kind. The smoke is still heavy, and even after the moon has sunk behind the Pickett Creek Saddle in the Owyhee mountains, outlining the pillow of clouds in an orange glow, I can clearly see the layers of desert hills, given depth and definition by the smoke.

Where is this coming from??

I climb back down to the house, grab my binoculars, GPS, and phone, and get in my car, and drive to the highway - 5 miles down the dirt road (away from the wind and smoke), and the mile toward the highway (I stop on the road, get out and still smell heavy smoke), and drive 5 miles on the highway back into the wind. The highway rolls and dips, and I drive to one of the highest points, where I stop the car, turn off the lights and get out (on this southwest Idaho highway, you can often stop in the middle of the road, even during the daytime).

I still see nothing, though the smoke smell is still strong in the brisk wind. The source of this abundant heavy smoke is still a mystery, but since I can see no obvious path of fire moving toward our ranch I can tell we are safe at least till morning. When I get home at 4:30 AM, the smoke and the smell has lessened there, and nothing obvious shows up on

When I wake in the morning, the horses are hanging out as usual, nothing is amiss, and life on the Crick goes on. There's only a slight, occasional whiff of smoke smell in the air, but still no clue where that heavy wave came from last night. I know smoke can travel a long way, but it smelled so thick and strong

I'm going to make sure I know where all the wire cutters are located, and next time I'm in town, I'm getting bolt cutters and grease pencils.

It all made me think of and be grateful for the firefighters, who breathe the smoke and blink through stinging eyes as they put their lives in harm's way to battle a beast of Mother Nature, because all I want to do is flee.

And I'm sure grateful the smoke alarm in my head works.

P.S.: the smoke likely was the Jump Creek fire - about 40 miles away (see Knotty Dogs' comment).
It was started by fireworks.
How stupid can people be?


  1. I doubt if you were smelling Jump Creek, but maybe ...? If you go on Facebook and check out the photo from the Idaho Press Tribune, it looks like a pretty sizable fire.

  2. Whew! You had my heart racing!
    I'm glad your were threatened by any fire this time and that y'all are safe. And I hope you remain safe, too!


  3. Scary. Not sure what I would do here. There is no vantage to really get a good look if there were a forest fire. The trees are all too close and too tall.

    I get really worried whenever I smell smoke--I think some kids made a campfire along the edge of the woods a few weeks ago. Fortunately, at that time, things were pretty wet. But it's hot here, 4th of July beckons, and things are drying up.

    Glad you are OK, but getting prepared just in case would probably be a really smart move.

  4. Sure a different world there than here. Wish I could send you some of our torrential rain.

  5. That is so scary. And those photos are also scary beautiful.

  6. Knotty Dogs, that must be it! amazing how such a concentrated amount of smoke arrived here. I could have sworn the fire was right here! not 40 miles away.

    thanks Lisa and everybody!!!!!!!

    One thing another reader commented on my other story is having the grease pencils to write your name/phone # on the horses if you have to turn them loose (if of course you have time to do that!). that's a great idea.

  7. That would have been so scary. I grew up in Southern California fire country and am so glad that the countryside in Egypt is too green and wet (unbelievably!) to burn easily. And then of course in the desert there's literally nothing to burn.

    Take care,


  8. My heart was racing as I read this! We live in AZ-so we always have an evacuation plan. I never thought of the grease pencils though. That is a great idea! I'm always a little more concerned when it's 'fireworks' season. Stay safe.

  9. We've been waking up smelling smoke for a week now in Utah. There is a green mountain range between us and a huge fire, but my clothes on the line still get ashes all over them.

  10. I'm glad your brother's house was okay. We've had some heavy smoke, too, from a fire that's about 50 miles away. Amazing how far it carries. We, too, kept thinking the smoke source had to be closer.
    Stay safe!

  11. OMG that is terrifying! I hate the smell of smoke in the night because it scares the bejesus out of me. I live in a wooden house that is 130 years old. They go up like tinderboxes. I'm so glad it was not near you. And I hope you got some sleep when you got back home.

  12. I always enjoy your blogs. You write well! I'm glad you and your brother are alright.