It’s Always Something Around Here! Tuesday night we were awakened at 4:00 a.m. by screaming. Took us a little bit to wake up to figure out what was going on, but we realized it was a baby bear that was screaming. Not a good sign: they usually scream because they got separated from momma.
Kit popped down to the garage to check the cats (they sleep there, since it’s a safer place than outside!), and “heard them moving around” so she came back to bed.
It wasn’t the cats moving. It was the momma. A bear inside could have done a lot of damage, but Kit coming through the door seems to have scared it off. That’s pretty lucky: momma bears can be pretty aggressive.
It had gotten in by pulling open a crank window that was left open a couple of inches for air, then tearing down the heavy wire fencing that’s over the window to keep the cats in, and critters out. That’s nothing to a bear, of course, and it came right in. She got into some of our food stocks, and ate all the cat food, while the felines probably cowered in their many hiding places they’ve found over the years.
It came back later that same day, and then the next night, but we managed to keep it out — the windows were locked (not that it couldn’t break through that, too!), and we had hosed down the area with ammonia, which their sensitive noses hate. Since then, it’s been quiet.
Did Someone Say “Quiet”?
Until Sunday. (Why do things always seem to happen on Sundays, when I’m trying to write!)
I was working at home, with my laptop, sitting in the living room by the window. I actually had my laptop in my lap, of all places! There was a big bright flash (despite it being mid-day, I could see it), then that nasty crack! sound, then the thunderous boom of very close lightning.
We took quick stock: everything was OK. Laptop didn’t even hiccup. Lights still on. Nice! Then my pager went off, for the local fire department. The address: next door! Kit, being upstairs with the better view, looked out the window. “Ten-foot flames!” she called out.
We scrambled to get out the door. Our lot is pretty heavily wooded; the lot to our west was cleared years ago, and is covered in sagebrush and wild grass. That was on fire.
The hard part with wildfires around here is access. I knew coming up our road wasn’t the best, even if the address is on our road, so I whipped around to the other side, down a driveway I know ends at that lot. Those neighbors weren’t home, but I helped myself to their gate to drive on to the neighbor’s land between us.
There was a brisk breeze, and the fire was spreading — slowly, at least. My first glance, I estimated it at about 50×100′. By the time we got the gate open and headed in, it had grown to about a half acre.
Kit grabbed the shovel I had tossed in the back and went to make sure it didn’t spread into the trees, which would have multiplied the fire quickly. I got on the radio and described to the fire chief how to access the fire — I wanted them to be able to get here quickly!
First Help Arrives
The fire department hadn’t even left the station yet, so I was absolutely boggled by what I saw next: another neighbor came running up with a shovel to help Kit.
Our neighbor Heath turned 60 not that long ago, and he literally ran from his house, through our lot, to the lot next door that was on fire. Total distance: about 3/4 of a mile. As a desk jockey, that probably would have killed me, but it was barely a warmup for Heath: he’s a long-distance runner, and often not only wins his age bracket, but wins period. He had plenty of energy to spare to work that shovel.
By the time the fire department arrived (and boy, is it good to see them pull up!), the fire was about an acre (about .4 ha, for those of you overseas). They came in two brush trucks, so they made pretty quick work of it. The next truck was a tanker to fill up the brush trucks as needed, so there was plenty of water. And it stayed out of the trees. Whew!
That was a little close for comfort, but it just goes to show that there are responders who are often there before the “first responders” — neighbors. One had called 911; two had joined forces with shovels to keep the fire out of the trees; another (yours truly!) found the best access so that the fire department could arrive Just That Much Faster to ensure this didn’t turn into something disastrous.
It’s not magic, it’s not even special training: it’s thinking (and thinking fast!) to make a quick impact.
So absolutely, the fire department did a great job. All told they were there for three hours, making sure that it was cold and couldn’t “rekindle” in the evening breezes. Still, it’s nice to know there are people who are watching out, and ready to jump when neighbors are in trouble, so they can make a difference before the “First” Responders arrive.
An Extra Special View
Last week, a package arrived with a new toy tool: a flying camera, better known as a drone. When I sold my dirt bike, I put the 30 $100 bills aside to buy something fun, and the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+* was it. Yes, it’s “easy to fly.” Yes, it’s still easy to crash, too. I’ve crashed mine twice so far, with luckily no damage.
The camera on it is amazing: full High Definition video or stills (and you can switch in flight). It has a very wide-angle lens, so it looks like the photo is taken from really, really high when maybe it’s 200 feet or so. There is no zoom, and it’s a bit hard to fly and operate the camera at the same time anyway, so best just to start video and then concentrate on flying — but I still have crashed twice in a week.
The upside: it gives an amazing perspective that’s otherwise not very easy to get, short of renting a helicopter:
I’ll answer the obvious question now, preemptively: no, I haven’t spotted the bear from the drone!
Oh, and did I say video? Here’s a couple of snips from the first day I had it (no audio), before the fire:
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