Snow and Fire

Leaving the Ozarks we visited family and friends in Missouri before making a quick run back home to prepare for our upcoming trips. Allie and I were ecstatic for a few snowy mornings after our return home but even the dry days were mostly pleasant for the month of March, with the usual Spring winds seemingly tamed.

Before we barely had a chance to settle in we were off again however – this time by car – to visit Tom’s grandchildren in California. Then we were back home and prepping for the next RV trip. Soon after the temperatures rose rapidly and the winds picked up however, with daily near-record wind and 80+ mph gusts predicted as we approached our departure date. The best day we could see to leave was a day with forecasted winds of 55 mph – which turned out to be no joke as we were driving perpendicular to the wind direction in a high profile vehicle. Thankfully our route was entirely via lightly-traveled two lane roads which allowed us to drive at reduced speed and to commandeer both lanes when necessary so as to not get blown off the pavement.

In other circumstances we would have stayed home until the wind abated but we had been scheduled to meet up with two groups of friends and travel together to a Habitat for Humanity build in Washington State – and so we figured all we had to do was get into Arizona and we’d be out of the worse of it. Unfortunately, we we wrong. Within the first 12 hours on the road we discovered that a massive fire had started in our town about a mile from our house. We decided to stay where we were in northern Arizona until we could figure out what was happening. Because the rapidly-growing blaze had been started by a downed power line electricity was shut off to the whole town and mandatory evacuations were underway as the fire consumed hundreds of acres each hour. With area hotels full and emergency shelters struggling to assist other residents we decided it would be best to not immediately return and use up already-scarce resources. As we continued to wait for additional news we felt both incredibly fortunate that we were safe and also devastated as we watched footage of flames engulfing homes and read news of uncontrolled spread. Knowing that peoples’ homes were being destroyed was heart-breaking, and the reports of zero percent containment and the ongoing grounding of air crews due to high winds was nerve-racking.

Within 48 hours of ignition it became clear that the fire was moving away from our house in the direction of the prevailing winds though it was continuing to spread unchecked into other neighborhoods north. But on the third day it doubled back faster than anyone had anticipated or prepared for, prompting emergency evacuations and killing two people attempting to flee. Miraculously the fire was contained along it’s southern edge a couple days after the deaths and the threat of further damage to life and property dropped to almost zero. But with village resources still stretched thin and power not completely restored we decided our best course of action was not to return yet. Since we’d had plans to meet our friends in northern California and caravan north we reluctantly decided to continue our trip – with an eye on the latest news and an agreement that we would travel the 1,500 or 2,000 miles in a couple days if needed by driving in shifts. It was a tough decision, and it felt somewhat wrong to be heading towards a vacation but we knew going back would just be an additional burden.