Today our calm WFU (wildland fire use fire) blew up. It had been happily puttering around in the wilderness for thirty days, creating a nice healthy mosaic. When I flew it last week it was very ho-hum, a few lazy wisps of smoke spiraling up from the pines. Everyone thought it would just poke around for a few more weeks and go out.
The wind, temperature and humidity aligned today and it roared out of the wilderness with a full head of steam. The column towered over the mountains, creating its own weather. Even 17 miles away we could see flames in the smoke. It was the kind of thing that reminds you why you like fire, even after twenty years of choking smoke, busting up your knees, and missing out on things like vacations and friends' weddings.
Everyone panicked. Orders flew fast and furious--an overhead team! Hotshots! Fire camp! Air tankers! Lead planes! An undercurrent of excitement ran through the building as people rushed back and forth. Rumors of lost 90 year olds at the trailhead (they turned out to be 86, and were found and escorted out). Road closures. Worry over public outrage over us not putting it out a month ago.
It's all very entertaining watching the whole gear-up for battle thing. It never really changes from place to place. Or over decades in fact. We think we have gotten really good at corralling fire into its place, that we can predict where it goes and what it will do. I like that our little fire proved us wrong this time.