What’s the Fourth of July without an uncontrolled brushfire? Yeah. We were down at the beach below Lauren’s, watching others along the waterfront setting off some of the more serious fireworks that make it into “civilian hands”.
At some point, Lauren looked down the path toward where we’d come from and said “Oh, that’s not good.” Elizabeth addressed the gaggle of kids, quite calmly: “Okay, we’re done. Gather everything up and let’s go. Now.” Finally occurred to me to look at what everyone else was watching. About a quarter mile away, along the path we’d come down, the hillside was on fire.
Of course, the way back home along the beach was clear, but someone’s mortar or rocket or parachute had gone astray: instead of going out over the water, the wind had carried it back over their heads and landed it in the dry brush of the embankment that led up to Lauren and Stephen’s place, along with the rest of the houses of Camano Shores.
Stephen went bolting down the rocky beach – he’s a marathoner – to loop around and alert the neighbors above, and Lauren – I think – said “I’m dialing 911”. Elizabeth was herding the kids, holding hands and calming them. I love being surrounded by folks who are so frighteningly competent in a clutch; I mostly took pictures, picked up things we dropped along the way, and fretted.
By the time we’d reached the place where the fire had started, it was clear that it was not going to go out by itself. A small crowd had gathered on the beach – it was also clear that there was nothing they could do either. We threaded along the houses on the shore in the dark and made our way up the hillside road to Lauren’s. Fire trucks and ambulances were on the scene, parked in the neighbor’s driveway and halfway down the street. In the dark, we could see smoke and embers rising through the trees at the cliff’s edge.
The firefighters had a lot on their side: they’d gotten there before the flames had crested the hill, and the slope was steep enough that the fire didn’t seem to be spreading sideways. In theory (warning: amateur armchair firefighting here!) all they had to do was hose it down from above to prevent it from spreading. And the breeze was light and offshore, carrying the smoke and embers out to sea, rather than on to neighbors’ roofs.
Still, stuff was dry – very dry. I followed Lauren out back to her section of cliff, about five houses down, and we took turns with the garden hose, wetting down the backyard scrub. We kept peering down along the cliff, trying to get a sense of the firefighters’ progress: we couldn’t see any flames, but we tried to gauge things by the trail of smoke and embers drifting out over the water. Voices from neighbors carried the news, telephone-style, to those further away.
About five minutes after we arrived, a big gush of smoke and glowing ember rose from the hillside, and then nothing. Lauren called over to her neighbor Doug on the far side: “Mary says they’ve put it out. Still one tree glowing, but it’s mostly out.” I handed her the hose and came in to see what I had in terms of pictures. Down the beach on either side of us, apparently oblivious to the excitement, other partiers were still launching their own mortars and fireballs out over the water.