Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Ring of Fire

I fell into a burnin' ring of fire --
I went down, down, down
and the flames went higher,
and it burns, burn, burns,
the ring of fire, the ring of fire. - Johnny Cash

Ok, picture this. It's mid summer, four days till your yearly vacation. Your body is in a Monday 5 PM meeting at somebody's air conditioned glass office, your brain was left locked in the car, six levels underground.

People in the meeting room are moving their faces and hands... but it's a silent movie, your brainless body is concentrated in the next two weeks on the lake, and on in the fly that stopped in the rim of your diet coke glass, or in anything but them.

Your trusty cell phone come to the rescue, you get to stand up and leave the meeting. Standing on the hall you pickup the call:
- "Señor, there's a big wildfire in on both sides of the lake, advancing towards the house", your brain swiftly joins the conversation at this time. The voice on the phone belongs to Sra. Liliana, she takes cares of the lake land garden when it's not on fire. She's also Don Hernan's wife the rest of the time.
Ok, you probably suspect this by now, but in case you weren't paying attention - wandering brain not only happens to me - the You in this story is Me last January, four days before summer vacation.

- "Ok..." - I say trying to understand what the woman just said - "take it easy, don't go near the fire, any of you" - Don Hernan is probably trying to put it out himself with his two sons I think - "and let's hope nothing burns, but don't risk yourselves, If something burns we can build it again. I'll call you back right now" - I say in a stupid effort to save the woman some of her prepaid minutes.

I can't get a hold of them for the next hour, not with her or with my neighbour, I abandon the meeting (i was never really there anyway). I call and call, and call. I picture a large tragedy... for long minutes I know nothing about them, I picture her melted cell phone too.
One hour and a half later she calls back, she's alive, unharmed, they all are... even her freaking cell phone. It just ran out of batteries.

The house is ok too. the fire went past it, thanks to Don Hernan and the helicopters of forest guards. All 30 houses - in an 8 kilometer stretch of the lake shore we are in - were not damaged. Mainly thanks to the firefighting helicopters, Don Hernan worked in our house, the helicopters saved every house, so they are the common factor that gets the most of the credit.

All the perimeter pine trees are gone, as also are the fences, water tank, irrigation plumbing, palms, everything is gone... even the large car entrance to our land, completely erased... everything but (big BUT) the houses and the tip of green that contains them - and I mean GONE, trees burned down to the roots, everything but the houses - surrounded by miles of black hills. Impressive, and we weren't even there.

At midnight they were still fighting some small focus of fire.
My neighbour and good friend Mauricio went by plane the next day to check things out and produced the photos you see here.

Five days later when we arrive, it doesn't look like your typical vacation spot, unless you are very fond of charcoal. The remaining logs are still smoking until they are totally consumed, the hill smells like a giant ashtray. This is not the best place to quit smoking.

On that Saturday morning we get electrical power back, we can start watering, putting out the smoking logs, watering the lawn that's left. Water brings some life back (and a huge burnt smell). We start making reforestation plans, I even buy a book on gardens and landscaping since the hills are bald, we even start seeing this as an opportunity.
We have bounced back quickly thanks to the forest parks fire fighting helicopters and to Don Hernan.
We had an extremely close call and decide we need more green surroundings. I start buying plumbing and we decide to plant green thick watery plants all around, and some nice trees.

We had a great vacation anyway, and started some of the re-forestation over the next two weeks. By mid February we left the place and the memories of the fire were left behind too, as we drove our youngest son Domingo to spend the rest of the month before school at my inlaws in Chillan, 200 miles south.

Two weeks later a huge earthquake woke up Chile after 3 AM on Sat 27, the epicenter was very close to... yes you guessed it... Chillan. But that's another story.

Update: More pictures added. Click on them to make them larger.


Anonymous said...

I can only imagine how hard it must be to try to get in contact with someone and get no answer. specially when you NEED to contact them...

MarceloM said...

Yes, it's quite hard, wheter it's because thay have no signal, no batteries, or they just won't answer.