Never a Dull Moment

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 fire is too close to the house for comfort.
Did I say “Near Home”?! Way too close to for comfort, but at least the wind was blowing it away from us. Which means toward where I’m standing to take this photo, where my car is parked. I had plenty of time to move, and I did…. (Photo: Randy Cassingham)

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.

The fire department arrives.
Help Arrives: Two brush trucks from Log Hill Volunteer Fire Department arrive. (Photo: Randy Cassingham)

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!

Kit and Heath take a breather.
Kit and a neighbor brought shovels, and helped keep it from spreading. Once the firefighters arrived, the civilians could take a breather (that’s them, at the arrow). Me? Why, someone has to man the radio and take photos! (Photo: Randy Cassingham)

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.

The View From Home
Taken from our window, once we got home. The fire department was still there, making sure it’s completely out. I had told the responding fire units that their best access was from a neighbor’s house. We (and they) did get in that way, and they parked the tanker there to fill up the brush trucks when they needed water. The neighbor wasn’t home. Hope they didn’t get a scare by coming home and finding firetrucks parked in their drive! (Photo: Randy Cassingham)

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:

The View From Above
“Please call it an ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ say the civilian government agencies. Eh: we pilots just call it a drone. (Boy, do the trees look a lot thicker from the ground!) The lightning strike was at about the top of the burn scar. The wind usually goes toward the house (toward the north-east), which would have resulted in the fire getting into the trees, and maybe even our house. But this time it was blowing toward the north-west. Whew! (Photo: Randy Cassingham)

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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20 Comments on “Never a Dull Moment

  1. Weren’t you worried about another lightning strike? If it hit open ground already, wouldn’t stand to reason a taller target is more likely? I really hate hearing fire department sirens during bad storms. Makes me cringe thinking about all that metal on the trucks and (sometimes) extra water shooting through the hose or axes they are carrying during a storm. Salute to the men and women in other kinds of boots.

    I was aware of, but not really “worried” about, additional lightning strikes. Storms were certainly “in the area,” and I was keeping an eye on things around us, but we didn’t have any other close strikes. -rc

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  2. Anything unusual about the strike location? Elevation, mineral deposit close to the surface, anything like that?

    A very interesting question. This was definitely not a high spot. There are power lines quite nearby. Mineral deposits? No idea — this wasn’t on my land, but I’m not aware of any significant mineralogy in the area. -rc

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  3. Been on many brush fires both while I was a volunteer and since, luckily none on my farm. Getting ready to clear my fire roads and fence rows in the next couple of weeks.

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  4. Last week my wife, Ann, and I travelled up to Fort Collins to visit our son, PJ and his wife, Marie. We plannned to be away almost three weeks (we’re house-dog sitting so the kids can go for week’s visit to her folks and several mutual friends in San Diego) so I asked my next-door neighbor, Barb, if she would keep an eye out and take in the mail.

    Saturday Barb called. Our basement had about two inches of water in it, but she said she would take care of it.

    I asked another friend to check it out and see what he could do to help, since we couldn’t return until after the kids got back.

    Today he called and reported the whole basement is “dry as a bone.” He reported in amazement that Barb, her husband and and son worked until dark for two days to get it that way!

    That is the kind of great neighbors we have in my town!

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  5. I have been flying a Phantom for over a year, and there are several of us who fly together in the area. I also participate on some websites. None of us would ever call our quadcopter a “drone”. The term has many bad connotations in the press and we don’t need any more bad vibes, what with the privacy worriers, the FAA/commercial use hassles, etc. I strongly suggest not using that term, not because the “government” says so, but because most folks “out there” don’t like “drones”.

    The term is already so ubiquitous that taking a photo of yourself with your aircraft is well known as a “dronie”. I don’t readily give in to silly fearmongering by the uninformed; I’d rather take the term back and use it proudly. -rc

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  6. Those flames are scary, your description shows just how fast the fire grows. Thank you for sharing the stills and the video.

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  7. That drone looks fun! My husband works with a bunch of young droneheads; they live by their drones, apparently. But they don’t have such nice scenery to photograph — you live in a truly beautiful location! And are you guys completely off the grid or only partially? I noted the water tank (I’m assuming) and the solar panels.

    I’m glad the fire was controlled so quickly. My daughter lives in the mountains in Idaho, and last year a major fire came within 1/2 mile of her place. It was a deeply scary time for all of us, as I’m sure you can well understand. Fires can blow up SO fast. It sounds like you and your neighbors all used your heads in the best possible way to make sure everything turned out well.

    The “water tank” is actually a Yurt; we lived in it while the house was being built, and after that it served as a summer guest house. We are on district water that’s quite good (comes out of the Colorado mountains). We’re tied in to the electrical grid too; the solar panels produce about half of our power. -rc

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  8. It appears that it is motionless while you are directing the panoramic shot. Was it? Is this a helicopter vehicle, or an airplane vehicle. Love what I could see of your house and property. Almost as nice as mine. Much smaller chance of fires and we live “in” the trees.

    It’s a quadcopter, so it was indeed hovering while I did the panoramic. -rc

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  9. How high can you operate the drone without getting afoul of aviation rules? I suppose there’s also the practical matter of the radio range. Does the camera transmit via radio so you can fly it by watching the camera view, or do you have to keep in in sight at all times like a traditional model aircraft?

    Our Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t issued rules on drones yet. That said, “model aircraft” generally have a 400′ altitude limit, and I doubt I’d want to go that high anyway, even if it is in radio range (and it almost certainly would be). The camera on mine does transmit its video back to me; I view it on my phone; the remote has a holder for it. -rc

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  10. You should ask your neighbor if you can look for lightening strike “stones” in the area. My silversmith instructor has found several “fused” minerals in strike zones. Usually gray blobs but some cool shapes. Glad you and Kit are OK.

    Huh: that would be interesting to find! -rc

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  11. I had thought you lived in craggy mountains from previous pictures so was surprised to see this looks much flatter from the drone picture. Does the drone “flatten” things out much or were those mountains a long ways off? I recall aspen trees in the Fall in your pictures. Maybe I just forgot where you were when you took them. I’m glad all was well. Give Kit greetings for doing a good job too!

    The wide-angle lens on the camera does change things a little. We have a lot of varied terrain around here, so it depends on where the photo was taken. No aspens on the property, but there are many nearby. -rc

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  12. Another great adventure tale, Randy. You sure stay busy since you “retired to the mountains”.

    My aunt and uncle, who live on the Front Range by Loveland, CO got the same model quad you have. The camera has the ability to be controlled with an iPhone and that’s how they work it. She is a long time photographer with her own business and she does the camera work with the phone while he flies. It makes it easier to concentrate on both tasks at once with teamwork.

    I know you know all about that teamwork idea.

    Indeed so, but my wife has her own idea on what to do with her time, so I usually don’t have her assistance! -rc

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  13. Glad you were able to get to that fire quickly and contain it — talk about fortuitous, that that lightning strike which started the fire was close to a pair of trained emergency responders!

    Better still, that you and Kit knew what to do to keep it from spreading AND were able to get the responders on duty out there quickly and efficiently.

    Glad, too, that mama and baby bear didn’t do more serious damage, or hurt you, Kit or the cats.

    Here’s hoping that things are dull for a bit — I’m sure your nerves could use the vacation!

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  14. So glad everyone is safe after all the excitement you’ve had. Love seeing the video of your home and the area where you live.

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  15. Bears and fires within 48 hours? I think I will stick with Florida. We also have bear and fire problems but the state is plenty wet and usually helps take care of the fires and the bears are generally more afraid of us than they think we are of them.

    As to drone or call it something else? Yeesh, lots of other things to worry about.

    We have more fires, you have more weirdos. Which is worse? Which … is … worse? Hmmm. -rc

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  16. I have had a saying for years.

    “It’s not a life – It’s an adventure, All ya’ gotta do is live it”.

    Ya’ll do that so very well. Hope you have many many more.

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  17. After something I just heard on scanners this morning, I think it is important to emphasize that you correctly took that aerial photo AFTER the fire was out.

    Here’s why: a whole bunch of firefighters and pilots are fighting a nasty blaze in Calif. called the Sand Fire that is threatening many homes and businesses here in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Aerial operations had to be suspended this morning because some obliviot was flying a drone over the fire. These brave pilots are flying through enough hazards without having to worry about colliding with another aircraft….

    Just so. There’s one way to ensure that these devices are regulated by the government: be stupid about flying them. Stay the hell away from events that could possibly be bothered by them! -rc

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  18. Are you OK with visitors stopping by to say hi? Just saying, now that you’ve shared where you live… 🙂 Looks awesome there.

    Note there’s no address shown! In fact, readers from as far away as Australia have let me know when they’re in the area, and I’ve met them when I’m available. So if you’re coming to Ridgway, do drop me a note, and I’ll connect if I can, usually for lunch. Yep: even with readers from Florida! -rc

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  19. “It’s not magic, it’s not even special training: it’s thinking.”

    Magic, thinking — equally mysterious to some, as long-term readers of This is True know.

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  20. Sounds like an exciting day! Do I understand correctly that the property you used to access the fire site is on the other side from your property? So you went past the property that had the fire on the road? I don’t understand why you could not get to the fire site directly from the road.

    Remember that this is a rural area with diverse topography, not an urban area with a grid of roads a tenth of a mile apart. The fire was a good 1/3 mile from any road, let alone a main road. I had to find them a path that wasn’t through woods, and was through fences. -rc

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