Friday, July 01, 2005

How to start a grass fire

So, I mentioned we'd been birding in the mountains. The area we were in blends from desert vegetation (cholla cactus, Joshua trees) to grasslands, to pine forests. It's dry. Even near the Kern River and Isabella lake, the hillsides are brown, dry grass. In other words: tinder.

On the day we arrived, at about 5 pm, we witnessed the start of a grass fire on Sierra Way, right next to the river. We were birding (of course) at a spot known as Migrant Corner, where Sierra Way crosses one fork of the Kern River. A pickup truck loaded with poorly-packed camping gear screeched into the pullout across from us, and we could see flames pretty much covering the bed of the truck. Michael, a native of the area, recognized the situation very quickly. "Here comes trouble."

Mom & two teenagers hopped out & started pulling burning objects out of the truck onto the road. Second truck pulls up. A guy jumps out, grabs the water jugs from the back of the truck and says "Pour these on the flames!", so we do.

After water is applied, most of the flames are out, but everything is still smoldering. To save the truck and ensure the fire is really out, son pulls a few more items. One of the smoldering items lands at the edge of the road, where weeds are growing thru the pavement. Whoompf! A 6-foot section of weeds lights on fire. Shouting. Excitement. "Call 9-1-1!". Flames cross from the road to the grass beside the road. Whoompf! 15 feet of flames along the ground. And, ROAR! Off go the flames up the hillside.

From the time the kid pulled the smoldering item out of the truck to full hillside in flames was less than a minute.

At this point, we ran back across the road, and watched the fire climb the hillside. It would burn through an area of scrub brush as far as it could go, then settle down to burn up what it had touched. Then wind or a stray blade of grass would provide the bridge to a new area and, Whoompf! A whole new area catches fire. We watched small mammals running away from the flames and bats flying through the smoke towards us. Orioles in the trees by the river are fleeing the scene.

We left after watching the fire for about 10 minutes. We were late to rendezvous with the rest of our party and we were just in the way at the scene. Our birding buddy Michael stayed on and watched helicopters bring water from the lake in long dangly tubes to drop on the fire. The firefighters had it contained and out that evening. As we left the scene, the kid who had been pulling stuff out of the truck bed was trying to get bandages and burn cream for his hands.

Lessons learned:
  • Do not drive around in a fire danger area with flammable camping gear in your truck bed. We assume the fire started with a cigarette landing the the camping gear or matches amongst the gear somehow igniting.
  • When ditching burning items out of your truck, throw them TOWARDS the road, not away. The road won't burn.
  • Carry trashbags in your car, in case you need to dispose of all your formerly-useful camping gear now charred beyond recognition.
  • Once the fire gets into the grass, do not try to put it out. Call the pros.
  • Know which way the wind is blowing.
  • Seriously. Keep fire and items which were previously on fire away from the grass.

    Blogger Christina said...

    Wow. Sounds exciting, scary and well just plain dumb. I'm glad to hear no one was injured!

    ~ Christina

    July 01, 2005 6:15 PM  
    Blogger Bogie said...

    Yikes. I'm glad you all got through it unscathed.

    July 02, 2005 5:07 PM  
    Blogger Ilona said...

    Wow - it must have been scary to be so close to the fire - I am glad all were ok, and that there wasn't much damage overall.

    July 05, 2005 9:53 AM  
    Anonymous Mel said...

    Glad to hear everyone was ok! What a frightening thing to witness.

    July 06, 2005 2:42 PM  
    Blogger adamwiz said...

    OMG! Glad you're all OK.

    Sheeesh, hope there was some tickets handed out, at the very least.

    July 08, 2005 10:07 AM  
    Blogger Abigail said...

    How scary! Glad you guys weren't hurt.

    July 08, 2005 7:02 PM  

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