Mendocino County Lightning Fires 2008

Below are photos of the Orr-Series (Montgomery Woods) fire.
The most recent photos are last (click here to jump to new photos).
Click on any photo for a larger version.

See e-mail updates for more more information about the Orr-Series (Montgomery Woods) fire.
See maps page for maps of the Orr-Series, the Horse, and the Jack Smith fires.

Many thanks to the hard-working members of Cal Fire and other fire departments that have come up here. Everyone (crew chiefs, crew members, dozer operators) has worked hard and done exhausting and dangerous duty as well as being consistently friendly and helpful. They have treated our place as though it was theirs, and have always sought to protect the residents and their homes. Thanks to all!

Early smoke (6/27/2008).

    Early on, the only indication of the fire near us was smoke.
    This is our front walk. For those of you who have been here,
    you will notice that you can't see the Pond Cabin.

    From above our place, looking across the valley toward the east.
    This was taken several hours before the front walk photo above,
    when it was the clearest it has been for several days.

    This is the area that burned itself out on the northeast corner of the Montgomery Woods fire.

    A bleak picture, but the fire crews actully like to see the "black,"
    because it may stop the fire next time it tries to cross.

Jimmy Booth's pictures (6/29/2008).

    They wanted to make sure that the small fire they put out yesterday
    with helicopter water dumps was out, so today they helicoptered in
    a crew of firefighters with chainsaws and tools to check and clear
    the area.

    This is the helicopter working yesterday to put out the fire (20 acres)
    that came up overnight underneath the Peter's place. It was on the
    wrong side of the fire break, so they wanted to be sure to put it out.

    Further out Running Springs, the fire came up to the road, and then
    they lit back-fires to make the area defensible. The smoke and flames
    were smothering from where Jimmy and I stopped, but the firefighters
    were right in it.

    The fires burned full trees down the hill, and lots of these little
    fires all along the road. That night, Shirlie and I took coffee to the
    firefighters at 2am. It was an eerie sight, glowing and smoking in the dark.

Fire in the Woods (6/30/2008).

    From here to the coast, the fires seem to go on forever.

Controlled burn of 80 acres of our place (7/1/2008).

    Even thought the fire was still not close to our ridge on the other
    side, Brian Kornegay (our Incident Commander) felt it was vital to
    create a defensive fire break by doing a controlled burn on about
    80 acres of our place. As you will see later, he was RIGHT! First
    they sent crews in to clear brush and cut limbs along the line.

    Then they lit the fire along the ridge line along Montgomery
    Woods (the North end of the burn).

    The fire came down the hill, neither quiet nor calm.

    The firefighters work right at the fire's edge.

    The fire starter walks along pouring fire into the grass, starting a
    perfect line of flame. His face is covered in a sheet of yellow mask,
    hooking up to his yellow uniform, with a pair of safety glasses all
    that you can see, looking for all the world like a comic-book superhero.
    The grass carries the fresh flames up the hill in a hot, loud burst.

    From Jimmy Booth's perspective up the hill, smoke obscures the detail.

    They positioned an engine at the house during the burn.

    Amazing how quickly it is done in the grasses. On the left it is burned out, while on the right it is just getting into full flame.

    When they burned behind our lovely "Oak Grove," they carefully
    ran a wet line right after the fire starter to keep the grass from
    burning into our grove.

    The following day the sky was briefly clear, and you could see the
    final result. Sadly, the large bay above the pond succumbed to the fire.

Amazing work. No threat to the pond cabin and always in control. The burn went on all the way to the bottom of our place and onto the Weger's where the wildfire had burned it a few days ago. As the night went on, the sound of trees falling went on throughout the night, but they are very pleased with the result. Crews continued to mop up and keeping the fire inside the "black" area for over a week. Brian Kornegay, The Incident Commander, said that this was a turning point for the fire, because it removed the fuel from this ridge, and this was the fire's last point of entry to the ranch.

Fedex back at the ranch (7/2/2008).

    Somehow this sight made me laugh. Fire and smoke on the hillside,
    fire trucks everywhere, FedEx delivered our LL Bean package!
    Life (or at least FedEx) is returning to the ranch.

4th of July (7/4/2008).

    We got to host 60 firefighters to a 4th of July barbecue. What fun!
    About 45 came to our place when they had a break, and we turned our
    station wagon into a picnic on wheels to track down about 15 more.

    We also got to try out our new fire hydrant, filling two engines.
    Thanks to our friend Eric for rushing up here to put on our hydrant!
    I was busy off doing who-knows-what while he came up and did the work.
    At least Shirlie was here to deliver coffee and lemonade!

    We decided 4th of July was a good time to replace our house air
    filter again. Can you tell which one is the new one, and which one
    was in place for just 10 days of smoke?

Fire in the Woods (7/5/2008).

    Here is a large panorama of the fire in the South end of Montgomery Woods.
    On the right, you can see our house over the hill from the Woods.
    [if the image is still small after you click on it, click on the image again]

Helicopters filling at Queenelle's pond -- thanks Queenelle! (7/6/2008).

    The pilots drop the empty bucket into the pond.

    They pull it from the pond, full of water.

    And they're off to the fire.

    Here is one flying in over the "black" with a full load of water.
    The hill they are flying over is the West ridge of our place.

    A touch of a button, and the water releases.

    Just like that! Pinpoint accuracy dropping down into Montgomery Woods.

Helicopters using water to fight the fire in Montgomery Woods (7/6/2008).

    The helicopters fly over our place all day long.
    We have grown to kinda like the sound :-).

    Here are two "passing" each other. One day 6 flew all day!

After days of increasing calm, the heat and dry weather brought the fire to us (7/8/2008).

    The fire roared up from Montgomery Woods to our ridge.
    These pictures are taken from our front walk. Suddenly
    picnics and FedEx and thoughts of safety flew.

    Less than two minutes separate these pictures.
    For the first time, it wasn't just the grass burning,
    and there was nothing "controlled" about it.

    At first I wasn't too concerned, but then equipment and people kept
    coming, including a bunch of very focused firefighters who watched
    in every direction around our place, looking for grass fire from falling
    embers. For the first time, it was the firefighters who were anxious.

    I dealt with the anxiety the only way I know how.
    I served coffee and lemonade.

    Now the smoke that was filling the valley was coming form our hillside,
    and the lump in my throat was stuck. I had the car packed again!

    Several times during ther fire, the sun was no more than a disc glowing
    through the smoke. Jimmy Booth captured it perfectly.

    I couldn't imagine how the helicopters even saw their way to
    drop on the fire. In many of the pictures Jimmy took, you can
    barely even see the helicopter.

    Just in case the flames weren't enough, the noise of the
    fire and the helicopters and the people and the engines
    made sure you knew it was serious.

    By sunset, the fire was not so angry any more, and things started
    to calm down. It wasn't until the briefing the next morning that
    I understood how close we came to a real nightmare.

The morning briefing by the Orr-Series fire IC (7/10/2008).

    Two days after the frightening push against the fire break, there is still a large crew at the morning
    briefing by our Incident Commander (IC), Brian Kornegay. Some of you may recognize the
    "coffee caterering" vehicle in the foreground.

    Each day, Brian has a "word of the day." This day, it was "snag,"
    the term for a dangerously weakened tree that could fall and harm a
    firefighter or extend the fire. He wanted to be sure that the fire
    fighters paid attention carefully to each and every snag. It only
    takes one to cause injury or death.

    On a lighter note, Brian shared a "firefighter's lunch" with me. I think it
    would feed me for a day or two! Maybe they are burning more calories...

A quiet and calm sunset (7/12/2008).

    The sun is beautiful behind this stand of oaks. I hope they
    survived the flames that shot above them 2 days earlier.

    The sun glowing through the trees had new meaning for us, but we still
    enjoyed it.

    Brian took this photo of Shirlie and me, happy to be
    able to breathe a little easier!

No smoke in this end of Montgomery Woods (7/13/2008).

    After 3 weeks of smoke filling Montgomery Woods, this view is a delight.
    Except for all the signs of fire past, the world has returned to normal.

Burned trees (7/14/2008).

    Sad to see the burned trees on our hillside. More and more keep appearing.
    The oaks will be slowest to recover, and are a particularly eerie ashen color.
    In the background, you can still see smoke in the Woods and large patches of
    brown on the hills. The fire is still active enough that we have at least 10
    fire engines here every day working on keeping the fire under control.

Valley photos (7/15/2008).

    As the morning fog lifts, the black looks painted on the hillside.

    A couple of families of young turkeys don't seem to notice that there was a fire.