Many people have asked about us and the fires--whether they are close, whether we are safe, what is happening. So we are posting our story, not because it was harrowing or unusual--we are much luckier than most--but to answer all of those queries.
To read a truly dramatic story, with photos and some big-picture information on the fires, check this article about our neighbor to the northeast.
Our place is on a dirt road, 15 miles from town and about 3 miles from Mendocino National Forest. There is just the one road in and out. The August Complex Fire started in the National Forest to the east of us. Those are hundred-foot trees the fire is towering over. (US Forest Service photo)
As winds drove the fire nearer, ash fell for days, and one day was so dark that crickets sang thinking it was night. The photo at right was taken at 3pm.
You can see why the terrain made the fire hard to fight in these USFS photos--steep canyons, super-dry vegetation, hot weather, and hardly any roads. When there is wind, fires can jump from ridge to ridge.
When Cal Fire took over the fire line near us, they added jumbo jets to the helicopters and planes that had been dropping water on the fire. So far, over a million gallons have been dropped on this section, to give firefighters a chance to build firebreaks. But many canyons and cliffs make it hard to reach problem areas, even when the smoke clears. The intense heat and smoke made a mushroom cloud visible from our garden.
The immediate concern was that, since we didn't have an automatic irrigation system, our seed crops would die from lack of water whether the fire came or not. Luckily, the thick smoke brought temperatures down from the 90's to the 70's, making less stress on the plants. Bob and Will worked to get the automatic system hooked up while Jamie sorted all the seeds for transport, and Julie ran loads of tools and garden supplies to town. We thought we'd have a few days more to prepare & pack.
In mid-project, the sheriff's deputies came to tell us the fire was moving fast and we needed to evacuate now. That was my cue to pack up the seed packets we had kept out for fulfilling orders. We hurriedly finished the irrigation, caught the cat, and started down the road with virtually our entire seed inventory, as well as the shipping scale, laptop, and supplies. (Also the cat, family photos, and a few books, but I took out the bedding and most of the clothes, to fit more seeds.) The car was so loaded it barely cleared the ground. A friend called and offered a place to stay. Amazingly, they also had a vacant office we could use. The next morning we started to unpack the seeds and find everything. You can see our makeshift packet storage in the center.
The firefighters made a stand on a ridgetop four miles from us, and westerly winds from the ocean helped them turn it back. The fireline is holding, and is under much more control now, but the danger will not be entirely over until we get a serious rain. We are keeping the seeds in their place of safety until the rain comes, and operating Quail from there.
Out at the land, planes and helicopters still are passing overhead all day to make water drops, and things are beginning to look like they did before the fires, when this photo was taken. We look with hope toward next year; in the natural cycle that prevailed in California for thousands of years, ash from forest fires provided essential nutrients and helped prevent disease.
We are so very lucky. The only damage to seed crops while we were gone was from gophers, uneven watering, and falling ash. By and large, they are fine. Thank you to all who have asked after us, prayed, helped, housed, ordered, and supported Quail in a myriad of ways. We are happy to be home.
Jamie Chevalier lives and gardens on a river in the Coast Range. She has gardened professionally in Alaska and California, as well as living in a remote cabin and commercial fishing. She wrote the Bountiful Gardens catalog from 2009 to 2017, and now is proprietor of Quail Seeds.