Fire near the home front mobilizes the cavalry

Smoke still surrounds my little riverside cottage this morning. It's been drifting down from the Tin Pan Peak fire, a couple miles southeast, since Thursday.

The drone of water-dropping choppers both soothes and rattles my nerves. While I'm hugely grateful to the fire crews' quick and aggressive response to this acreage-eating, home-threatening blaze, the whirlybirds' whap-whap-whap also reminds me the fire still lurks.

I was in the newsroom just finishing up a courts story when we started hearing reports of a fire in Rogue River. Then singular became plural. At one point there were about six fires hop-scotching around my neck of the woods.

I hate fires. I don't know who actually likes them. But I actively hate them. They scare the bejeebers out of me. And, to quote M.A.S.H.'s Hotlips Hoolihan, "I don't like being afraid. It scares me!"

Interstate 5 was being shut down, and I was 30 miles from home and my animals. I could feel the panic setting in. The thought of my parrots and cat trapped inside the cottage had the hair standing up on my neck.

"I'm outta here," I said.

I'd already called my neighbor as the first reports came rolling in over the squawk box. But Jan hadn't seen any signs of smoke, let alone fire. Yet.

"I'm on my way. I just don't know how long it will take me to get home," I gulped.

I reminded her where my spare key is kept, and the pets' carriers. I also tried to explain how one might get a frightened and recalcitrant parrot out of a big cage without losing one's digits. I could tell she was more frightened by the notion of toweling my African grey, than any pending inferno.

I called my sister and begged her to get to my place as fast as she possibly could. But because we have a shared history of a really bad fire experience, I also immediately started bawling. So it took her a couple tries to understand what I was gibbering.

"Please go now. Go now! Now! PLEASE!"

Sis hit the road. And she called in reinforcements, too.

I hauled tail along backroads in my little red bomber, trying to beat the threatened closures on Rogue River Highway. I actually beat my personal cavalry to the logjam of cars that police diverted off I-5 just north of Gold Hill.

When I saw how bad the gridlock was, I told Sis to turn back. My niece pressed forward, offering moral support and asking for updates.

Smoke filled my little red Vibe as it crept along. Flames crested the hilltop near Millers Gulch. Ash flew over the car into the yards of wide-eyed property owners who were holding fast to their garden hoses while blasting irrigation sprinklers.

What was happening farther north? I had no idea. I tried to stay in contact with the newsroom, family and friends. But my fancy Droid cellphone dropped nearly every call. (Note to self: change carriers immediately.)

Can you tell tension makes me cranky? So do gawking gooberheads who plug up the roads. A disaster is not a show, people. Please stay home. Some adult morons actually brought truckloads of their kids into the fire zone. Future Darwin Award candidates?

I also remain flameout ticked at certain idiots who decided to drive on the wrong side of the highway — endangering everyone. To the lady in the black Prelude, the man in the white truck and the punk in the muddy jeep, please be advised: Emergency flashers are not magical get-out-of-traffic-laws devices. You could have caused a wreck. And how would that have helped anyone?

As it was, it took me almost two hours to complete the normally 27-minute drive home. But to see that my critters, and my home, were safe, to hear Goose and Gaia shout, "Hello! Hello!" while Squiggy peeked out the window, was the best feeling on Earth.


Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email

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