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June 14, 2008
Heat… and fire

A news photo of the Electra Fire, burning about three miles from our mountain house
(photo courtesy of KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento)

The last time we visited our mountain home, we still had rain in the Bay Area. Only three weeks later, when Russell drove up to the property on Friday afternoon, July 13, the temperature was 102º in California’s Central Valley. There were numerous fires burning throughout the Bay Area:

The commute was extra long, due to a number of roadside fires that caused traffic back-ups. In fact, when Russell reached Gold Country and the final half hour of his drive, all he could see in front of him was smoke coming from the mountains in the direction that he was headed.

Russell's Friday the 13th commute was delayed by roadside fires such as this vehicle fire in Sunol

When Russell finally arrived on top of the mountain at 5:00 pm, it was 90º both inside and outside the house. Russell had been looking forward to trying the new ceiling fan that our electrician step-brother Jim had installed during the week. Combined with the window air conditioner, the new fan should keep things comfortable inside. Unfortunately, when Russell opened up the house, he discovered that there was no electricity. The power was out.

Our step-brother Jim has been coming up during the week to continue wiring the house. In addition to adding circuits and outlets (we can now run the refrigerator, microwave oven, and air conditioner at the same time!), he installed a ceiling fan over the eating area. Unfortunately, there was no electricity to turn it on.

Russell’s friend Steve arrived for the weekend as well. Together, we watched the fire burning on the nearby mountain as winds blew smoke and ash in our direction. Russell was able to eat his dinner alfresco (fortunately, he had picked up sushi instead of a frozen pizza). We were joined by our neighbor’s children, who also came up to watch the fire. Apparently, our mountain top offered the best view.

As we later learned, the Electra Fire had started at about 4:00 pm that afternoon (cause unknown), about three miles away on the Mokelumne River where Amador County and Calaveras County meet. In addition to burning 400 acres of rural brush, the fire had knocked out power for about 13,000 residents due to damaged power lines. This included roughly half of Amador County, as well as households along the Calaveras County border (including us).

The view to the west normally looks something like this

On Friday afternoon, the view looked more like this

We asked Robert and Jerry where their parents were. “They're sitting at home, worried.” Steve wondered if should evacuate, especially since the wind was blowing in our general direction. The thought of evacuation had never occurred to Russell, so we decided to stay. Before our neighbors departed, we did request that they come and tell us if things took a turn for the worse, as we had no direct access to news.

Fortunately, the fire was declared under control and power restored by 7:00 that evening. After doing some inside painting and caulking, Steve and Russell were able to enjoy an evening with electrical lights, fans, and more episodes of “Lost.”

All of the smoke and ash created a particularly hazy sunset on Friday evening

There were two more power outages Friday night. We were able to work Saturday morning until the power went out yet one more time. Russell tried to continue building without power tools in the heat, until Steve suggested that we go and clear brush from the trails instead.

The good news is that this particular fire caused no threat or harm to our mountain or home construction. The bad news is that we can’t obtain fire insurance until the house has passed its final inspection. At this rate, that may be more than a year away. In the meantime, we remain cautious as we face one of the driest California summers in years.

On Saturday, we could clearly see the 400 acres that had been damaged by the fire


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