A whole year, already? Has it really been a year since the first tendrils of smoke curled skyward near the ranger station up Angeles Crest Highway? Since the gathering sirens of first responders broke the late summer stillness that usually hangs heavily over the Crescenta Valley?
Looking at the hills above us, you’d think the big Station Fire had roared through our mountains much longer than “only” a year. The amount of bright green growth already blanketing the slopes that only a handful of months ago were ugly ash and char is reassuringly beautiful. And yet, with even the slightest breeze, that familiar, disquieting smell of ash and soot waft through the air of the Foothills even now, one year later.
One of the few positive outcomes of the Station Fire has been the relative certainty of knowing that – even though our normal fire season is just around the corner – our hills stand a good chance of not burning up. At least, not this year. What’s left to burn?
Even long after the last flames were doused, a near-constant reminder of the Station Fire has been the steady convoy of dump trucks rumbling up and down our city’s streets – carrying load after load of flotsam and jetsam from the many check dams and debris basins that will be pressed into service once the rains come again. The new growth on the hillsides should help keep some debris from filling up the basins, but it won’t be nearly enough.
Speaking of flotsam and jetsam of another kind, another phenomenon that accompanies big wildfires like last year’s Station Fire is the national media attention they attract. I mean, what else could bring ABC’s superstar newsreader Brian Williams to broadcast live to the nation from our neighborhood streets? Even more impressive, none other than NBC’s weebly-wobbly-weather guy himself, Al Roker was seen reporting on last year’s fire live and up close from the Crescenta Valley.
And yet, as large and destructive as an inferno like last year’s Station Fire can be, the national media machine almost always inflates the danger to even higher levels. Watching the network news coverage, anyone not living in our zip code could’ve been excused for thinking every home and business in the Foothills had either already gone up in flames or soon would. That, of course, starts the phone calls coming in from out-of-town friends and family. By the sound of their shocked voices when I take their call, they must always think that I’m holding the phone with one hand and a fire hose with the other.
“Oh! You’re still there?” I’ve heard from well-meaning, but panicked distant callers. “Why aren’t you leaving?” I always want to tell them that I’m too busy answering phone calls, but I don’t.
One thing that didn’t happen during last year’s fire – unlike when other historic wildfires have roared through our hills – the fire crews did not use Two Strike Park as a base camp. I feel strange admitting that I was more than a little disappointed. Several times when I was growing up and living just a few homes north of Two Strike, the upper baseball field was transformed into an encampment worthy of the U.S. military, with row upon row of tents, cots, mobile dining facilities, supply trucks and – best of all – a helicopter landing pad. Provided it wasn’t the middle of the night, my parents allowed me to walk to the park. There, I’d stand for hours in the parking lot above the field and watch the comings and goings of trucks and especially the aircraft. It was a real life boy’s adventure worthy of any Tom Sawyer novel.
Hopefully, this time next year we’ll be commemorating the two year anniversary of the Station Fire because there hasn’t been another one to take its place in the intervening months.
I’ll see you ‘round town.
Jim Chase is an award-winning advertising copywriter and lifetime CV resident. Find him online at www.wordchaser.com.