High Park Fire, 10: Gardening, such as it’s been this year

This has not been a great year for gardening.

Our raised beds got built a few years ago. We didn't have the repeated hailstorms pounding the tomato plants into green pulp before they had a chance to get started. There's been a drought, but the water's been applied regularly, if judiciously (none extra for the grass). The squirrels have been far less interested in devouring the vegetables—mostly because of the new reasons that the garden never quite got going with gusto this time around.


(Lady, a visitor, and Ceilidh, a local, very interested in where the squirrel went.)

This has been the year of the High Park Fire, and of resulting guests: Bear (in back) and Lady (in front).


That photo was taken just after they arrived to stay with us in June, when their home burned down. In our back yard it was very hot, although not fire-beset, so they hung out under the deck, where we wetted down the gravel. Later, Bear went to live temporarily with a bunch of livestock for him to protect. Bear is a sweetheart, but he isn't an inside dog (we tried). Lady was scared to come into the house for the first week or two—we could barely get her up the stairs to even look inside, but she's since adjusted.


The house is a bit small for playtime with close to 200 total pounds (90 kg) of dog, but they make do.


Our friends, their dogs, their cat, and their llamas are still living in separate places around the country, most in-state but three critters out-of-state.

I do need to do a fire update.

It's far from over. For those who lost their homes, the process of digging out and determining where, and how, to live next is still in the beginning stages. The fire itself isn't out, although it's 100% contained. During some of our friends' clean-up work this week, which involves removing debris, they saw a plume of smoke very close to where they were working, and discovered a still-hot spot.

Here's Earl's account of what he experienced at their property a couple of days ago:

Way back in June when the wildfires raged through our hills we heard that the danger wouldn't be over until the first snow flew. I didn't take it seriously at the time and was stunned to find smoke coming up from a small pile of rubble uncovered by the clean up crew this week. As I walked up the hill to the barn site I was smelling smoke and wondering if it was just the smell of all the ash that had been pushed into one pile prior to removal. That wasn't the case and as I rounded the corner at the top of the grade I saw a plume of smoke. What ever was smoldering had been under a pile of ash and when that was removed the wind rekindled the hot embers. Three months out and hot spots still remain!

And here are Kris's notes from just two days ago. Samaritan's Purse, which she mentions, is a group of Christian aid-workers that has given them more tangible help than any other organized group, including the government or the Red Cross (or insurance).

As we've been sifting up there, even after Samaritan's Purse, and all the rains, we'd be standing on a pile of soot and have to move, because the underlying soot was still giving off heat. Thankfully, the work boots the kids sent us are heavy enough that we didn't toast our toes. Will be interesting to go up today, see if there was snow there, and where there might still be hot spots—or were. The cleanup crew is amazing. Have already taken over 4K pounds of metal to the recycler. . . .

Toward the end of July, Samaritan's Purse sent a large crew that spent days helping our friends sift through the ashes for anything that might have survived the inferno. Our friends have no connection to this group. Someone who knew about Samaritan's Purse just asked if help was needed, were told "yes" (the timing was perfect: our friends had been estimating it would take many months to even assess the damage), and a large crew was assigned to work "as long as they're needed" to go through the ashes and retrieve any personal belongings that could be salvaged.


Those are only some of the workers on the team. That's Kris and Earl in front, in the (appropriately named) fatigues.

So first there came the "do we have anything left?" part. The next photo comes from early July, when our friends were (1) allowed to go look, because the fire was sufficiently controlled, and (2) able to face seeing what had happened to their home (not easy).


The so-called shabin (the small shed with no utilities that was on the property when they bought it) survived untouched, as did the tractor.

The barn didn't.


That's a steel beam from the barn, along with its roof and a stock gate. Wildfires are both unpredictable and fierce. Note the damage here, and see the building at the upper right in that photo, which is their only neighbor's house, untouched.

Their own house did not survive any better than the barn. Our friends had built it recently, over several years, using all the best fire-resistant techniques and materials. It wasn't quite finished inside. Firefighters who checked their property during the Hewlett Fire (which was nearby not long before the High Park Fire) assured them that their ranch would be easy to defend. The fire took its final run to the north with a speed and intensity that nothing could withstand, and against which defense was impossible.


That's the metal roof of the house, along with melted glass from the windows. Not even the foundation can be salvaged because it was too extensively damaged. Concrete, well-known to be a fire-resistant building material, is not immune to failure when exposed to excessive heat.

Then there's the scraping away and disposal of the debris—very costly, in work, equipment, and dumping fees. Here's some debris that needs to be hauled away and disposed of:


Yes, there's a car in there. The vehicles that our friends saved were the livestock trailer and the truck that hauls it, as well as the small SUV (with a lot of miles on it) which they used to evacuate the small animals and the few personal belongings they could grab. The SUV's removable seat was in the fire, and they've been unable to find a replacement for it, so they now have no method of transportation that can carry more than two people at a time. They have to rent a car when they need to take elderly family members to or from the airport.

Note: Corning ware made it through—just needs cleaning.


The rest of the cookware didn't.


Ditto the washer and dryer.


Yet a pot I had made and given Kris did, albeit re-fired and so not the same colors it used to be. It looks more like raku now.


The Samaritan's Purse folks also retrieved Earl's wedding ring, which he'd taken off while working in the barn. (That's a press release. I'd link to the original news story, except that our paper doesn't make "older" news readily available.)

Our friends are now at the debris-removal stage of the process. They are still living in another set of friends' spare bedroom, with the few things they've gathered to begin replacing their lives stored at our house and in a storage unit. They are still wondering whether, where, and how they might rebuild. (At the end of September, for 259 homes lost in this fire only 20 owners had gotten to the stage of having a permit to rebuild.)

Returning to dogs, Lady has decided that we are okay company, and her safety and well-being is one thing our friends don't have to worry about at all.

Which returns us to the garden. We got some plants in the ground about June 20, which is three weeks after our frost date, but we were busy with all sorts of things.


While both Bear and Lady were with us, it became apparent that it didn't make sense to plant much in our raised beds. (We also didn't waste water on the lawn.) This is what the garden looked like on June 30.


Once Bear moved to a place where he could guard ducks (they're not llamas, but it's a job), we dared to get more plants into one of the beds. (The small bed has a couple of perennial herbs in it. The plan was to plant more. It didn't happen.) The second four-foot bed still was appealing to the remaining visitor. The biggest problem was that the nesting instinct tended to transfer our carefully prepared soil (not the local clay) outside the frame.


We tried putting in an impediment to sleeping in the bed (it's a BED, but still), or at least something to slow down the removal of the dirt. That worked for a few weeks, but I removed it when I discovered it had been knocked over and was posing a risk to the canine members of the household. 


Here's 5:50 a.m. two mornings ago, just after the smoke alarm started chirping to tell me that its battery was low and two of the dogs decided they'd like to be outside, thank you (perhaps to see whether the squirrels were awake yet):


And the same morning at 7:20:


Just before the recent frost warning (we iced up last night), we gathered our final harvest of the year. The ripe tomatoes about double our take (from the entire gardening push) for the whole season.


We have a good recipe for a green-tomato curry.

I think most of what we grew in the garden this year, other than a few marigolds that did reasonably well, was a big white dog. Fortunately, she's very nice.


4 thoughts on “High Park Fire, 10: Gardening, such as it’s been this year”

  1. Gotta love your crop of one big white dog! It should be noted, by those who may not know, that Deb’s daughter Bekah is an amazing dog trainer, and has increased Lady’s skill level remarkably.
    The decision to rebuild or not is hard, because this was to be our retirement home, last move after 29. Yes, 29 moves in 42 years.
    Thankfully, incredible friends who will disrupt their lives for months, making sure we don’t have to worry about a roof over ours or our animals’ heads, soothes a bit of the stress.

  2. Sobering. We live at the top of a mountain ridge and have done what we can to make ourselves “fire-safe”. We have no summer rain so every year at this time we hope for an early rainy season. Your friends have my best wishes. They are lucky to have you to help them.

    Have you ever had fried green tomatoes? They are very good.

  3. It’s true, Kris, Lady gets daily practice on basic obedience commands. That’s part of the household routine, and while geriatric dogs are excused, visitors are not {grin}.

    Kit, the curry recipe is very good and we can find that for you. It’s easy, too.

    “Fire-safe” is worth all the effort that goes into it, Anne, yet isn’t guaranteed, as we can see. We haven’t had fried green tomatoes. (I’ve read the book!) We do have more of the greenies, even after making a big batch of the curry.

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