November 2020 By Chic Miller
It was mid-afternoon on this warm October day. The sky was a beautiful shade of blue. Not a leaf was stirring in the huge oak trees. The flag at the end of the drive was still.
We had just unloaded the last few bales of hay from the trailer. I was glad that the barn was now full for the winter. I thanked Trevor for coming over to help, then waved him goodbye as he headed off to his home in Ono, high on the top of Rainbow Lake Road. He’d be back to help out again, I was sure. He’s a really nice guy and one heck of a worker.
As I headed back up the drive to start my next project, I felt a soft breeze begin to blow. I watched as the flag started to lift gently from its pole. The farm was otherwise calm. The ponies, donkeys, and horses were grazing peacefully. The goats lay nestled in their green grassy pasture. The chickens clucked softly as they scratched the ground. The dogs napped here and there throughout the farm, not a care in the world.
The wind was starting to pick up now, just as the weather report had predicted. The flag fluttered and moved gently with each mild gust of wind.
As I continued on, off to my left I saw it….a huge plume of smoke was billowing high in the sky over the Igo area, just a few miles north of the farm. A Wildfire! My heart skipped a beat as I watched it grow darker and larger.
Focus, stay calm, don’t panic. I knew the routine well, we’d been through wildfires before. We knew the importance of being prepared – and we were.
I jetted for the house, grabbing the red emergency book, running shoes, and the phone. With shaking hands I dialed 911, then listened briefly to the scanner. No doubt now, the fire had started on Zogg Mine Road in Igo and was heading our way. Bob started making those life saving calls to neighbors and friends in the path of the fire, alerting them of the danger. “Get out now, the fire is close,” I heard him say over and over to each person on our list in that big red book.
As I turned rainbirds on the house, barn, shop, kennels, and aviaries, I saw Trevor’s truck race back to the farm to make sure that we were aware of the fire heading our way. Of course, we already knew. I was sure without asking that he was heading home directly into that inferno to save his beloved dog. “Be safe,” we called to each other as he drove away.
The winds were increasing, blowing dust across the bare, dry pasture. The skies grew darker, ash covering the farm like a layer of snow. It was getting difficult to breathe. The flag was slapping wildly, not allowing me to know for sure which way the wind was carrying the fire.
Normally, I love the wind, not today! My heart was pounding hard in my chest as the helicopters began flying overhead. The borate planes flew so very low it seemed as if I could reach up and touch each one. The fire trucks rumbled by, one after another, too many to count.
And then he came. I knew he would. I watched as he drove through the dense smoke, down our little winding road. The sheriff stepped out of his cruiser, a pink ribbon in his hand. He gave me a solemn look as he tied the pink ribbon on the gate, indicating that we had been warned of the approaching fire. He advised us to evacuate, knowing that we wouldn’t, couldn’t. Then I watched as he drove slowly away.
My attention then turned to my dogs who were clinging to me like Velcro, sensing the danger. I reassured them over and over that all was well.
The calls started coming from friends wanting to know if we were OK and offering help. Trevor also called to say he and his dog were safe. Then the emotional ones from my family out of state, my son John, brother Joe, and granddaughter Chelsee. I kept reassuring them that we were OK, not real sure how long that would be true.
Three long days we waited and watched as the firefighters fought to protect the farm. Then, magically, with the help of CalFire, back burns and wind changes, we were safe. Now once again the flag lay still at the end of the drive. Once again, we had been spared.
Our thoughts are now with all our friends and neighbors who have been affected by this horrific tragedy.
Please stay safe….
Bella Vista Farms Animal Sanctuary
4301 Lower Gas Point Road
Cottonwood, CA 96022