I was heading up to my property on Saturday, just like I would any other time, when I saw a giant column of smoke in the general direction of my property once I got to the nearest city, about 1.5 hours away. I looked online, and found that there was a massive fire within miles of my property.
I headed up to towards my property, fearing the worst, but knowing that there wasn’t much I could do one way or the other. I got stopped at a road block about 45 minutes away from my property, due to a different fire. Fortunately, the cop told me of a way to get around the roadblock, and I was able to get on the county road towards my property right around dusk. I expected to get stopped, but there were no road blocks, and I checked in with firefighters huddled by the road to make sure it was safe, and nobody told me not to continue.
It was a huge relief once I got to my property, and to see it still unscathed, for the moment — there were plenty of signs that this one might be close. The ground was littered with ashes and bits of charcoal, and orange fire retardant had been dropped on my cabin and surrounding areas. The air was thick with smoke, and even though I tied a wet towel around my face, there were moments when I felt light-headed and almost asphyxiated.
I spent most of the night doing what I could. I first loaded up the car with things worth saving (mostly things of high replacement value or high sentimental value), then I spent a few hours fireproofing my cabin. I’d read that structures tend to catch when burning embers get in, rather than from radiative heat that comes from a nearby fire. So I cleared flammable debris from the base of the cabin and put up a skirt to keep burning embers from getting underneath. Then I took down the gutters so that embers wouldn’t gather there, and I used heat-resistant foil tape to cover some exposed wood and foam insulation. I also cleared dry and dead vegetation from around the cabin.
Throughout the night, I also took frequent breaks in my cabin. I put on some music, ate some food, and sat there as I would on any normal night, trying to enjoy and appreciate the chance to spend some time there, perhaps for the last time. It felt like seeing off an old friend. Even though I’ve only had it for a few years, it was shelter. It protected me from the sun, the wind, the rain, the snow, and -10F nights. It was the one place I could come to, no matter how rough life got, and stay for as long as I needed. In some ways, the cabin was the most dependable friend I’ve ever had. Until now.
It was also a good reminder that nothing lasts forever. Life sometimes feels like nothing but a lesson in letting go. Letting go of the old to let in the new. And in some ways, that’s what this forest fire was about. Fire is part of the ecosystem. There are seeds that only sprout when there’s a fire. Fire maintains balance and nourishes the soil. Sure, the fire ecology here is out of balance… but that’s our doing. By not letting ourselves allow for healthy burns, we’ve set ourselves up for unhealthy burns. This seems like an important lesson, in all aspects of our lives.
I worked until 4am, then decided to take a nap. Partially because I was tired, but partially because I wanted to sleep in my cabin, one last time. But I also knew that, even though the fire was staying put, that anything was possible once the sun came up and the winds started blowing. So I allowed myself a 2 hour nap, got up, finished packing, shot the video, and headed into town. They shut off the road for good just as I was leaving.
Last I heard, the fire, which has burned tens of thousands of acres, had reached a road 200 yards from my property line the day before I was up there. That line seems to have held so far.
Hoping your place is saved!
Wow. I sincerely hope that your cabin survives. Although it might have been a little risky, I too would have gone to get stuff that I valued. Your work to defend against embers, and etc was smart. If when!) you can go back to your (unscathed!) home, you can do even more prep to keep it safe from fire in the future.
This post strikes home to me especially as my own property is located smackdab in the middle of fire country in northern Eastern Washington state. There are almost no homes within miles, so defending the area is low priority, compared to other, more populated areas. I’ve already had a long and helpful talk with one of the local rangers about how to protect my own home from fire, yet still encourage a natural and healthy forest around me. I too understand that fire is part of a healthy ecosystem, but I want to have a little bubble of safety just right around me and my critter’s homes!
Take care, and please post when you know how things stand. I wish you good luck and a happy outlook.
Best of luck to you! I love following along with your posts. I hope to someday build a small cabin just like yours on my property a few hours North of yours.
I wish you luck as well. I’ve followed your blog with interest since I live relatively close by (Surprise Valley, east to the Nevada line) and I enjoy the process of creating an off-grid home/homestead in wild country.
You may already know this but here is a link you can use to stay updated on that fire: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4037/
If you check the “maps” tab, updated maps should show you the current extent of the fire and you can see whether it has gotten any closer to your cabin. I hope it skips you.
Thanks for both your written and video explanations… I live in a fire-prone area of Australia… fire season is not fun. Good luck…
I’ve skirted a few fires so I know what you’re going through man. Stay optimistic and know we are all praying and hoping your land is safe!
Thanks for continuing to share your experiences, good and others, with us on your blog. From someone who has followed you since before project 31, I hope that everything works out ok in the end.