Ruth and I have been lucky. We have been near huge forest fires, but have not directly experienced one except for that time in Idaho.
We drove down Highway 395 in California fairly recently and experienced lots of snow. How things rapidly change! Now the area we drove through is experiencing the first major California forest fire of 2021. Called the Sugar Fire, it has crossed Highway 395 in 2 places already and destroyed homes and businesses in the town of Doyle, CA that we drove through twice. More than 82,000 acres have been affected. Rocky Opliger, Incident Commander on the scene of this fire has called this fire he is fighting, “…unprecedented early season extreme fire behavior”. The temperature in the town of Doyle is expected to reach 104 degrees tomorrow as the fire danger continues.
Many towns and cities have been fire victims historically. Think of Chicago. Doyle is a very small town of 622 people 40 miles southeast of the town of Susanville, CA and 51 miles northwest of Reno, NV. I don’t remember it at all even though Ruth & I drove right through it. In fact, my Rand McNally atlas doesn’t even list it among California towns. I found it by accident as I studied a map. There was no way we might know that it would be the scene of this state’s largest fire so far in this expected-to-be tinderbox season. Doyle is 354 miles northwest of Death Valley where the temperature reached 130 degrees 2 days ago. Close to the world record for heat, this temperature tied a record set in Death Valley in July, 1913.
Ruth and my forest fire experiences have not been vast. Coming back to our home in Washington State twice in recent memory, we experienced forest fires in Idaho. The first time we merely had smoke in the air. The 2nd time we had to go a different route to avoid confronting a forest fire up in the mountains north of Boise. On the way home far more than 2 weeks later, the fire was still a problem, and we were closer to it. We could see helicopters still fighting it and left the area as quickly as we could. At home we have experienced smoke in our home from some Columbia Gorge fires in recent memory. One time we had to stay in Bend, OR overnight because we could not get around a nearby forest fire near the town of Sisters. The smoke was awful. I talked to some staff members at the Getty Center in LA just last year and heard detailed, first hand accounts of the forest fire that threatened its tram system the winter season before. To my knowledge, the city of Los Angeles has had only 2 bouts of rain this entire winter, so the area must be very dry and vulnerable to fire now. After my brother moved to Oakland, CA, we were discouraged from visiting him due to forest fires in the area that were creating a lot of smoke destined to be inhaled by area residents. Forest fires, it seems, come with living in this part of the world.
The Sugar Fire is apparently named for Sugarloaf Mountain, which is near Highway 395. This first California fire of the 2021 season was started by a lightning strike, not camper carelessness. Four of California’s top 5 fires occurred in the year 2020, and the major conflagration called The Camp Fire completely destroyed the town of Paradise, CA the year before.
PS The 2 fire photos are from pxfuel.com and abnews.com.