By C.J. Barbre

The Deep Fire ignited at 5:48 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 12 near the PG&E Powerhouse along Highway 190 in the Tule River Canyon above Springville.

Over the next four days it would consume more than 7,000 acres. Seven people would be injured, but none seriously and there would be no property damage. But of course you can't know that until the scene plays itself out.

It was 7 p.m. as I left work in Exeter on Thursday, Aug. 12. On Highway 65, past the grape fields, I saw this huge, V-shaped wedge of black smoke in the sky. It might be coming from behind Elephant Back, possibly in the area of Round Valley. It's extremely difficult to gauge until you get pretty close, at least that's my experience chasing down possible news-breaking fires.

As I passed Lindsay the smoke looked more like it could have been coming from Frazier Valley. At the Strathmore light, heading up Avenue 196 which becomes what is generally called Frazier Valley Road, it looks now like it might be coming from Springville.

Now my breath is coming in shorter intakes as my mind kicks into high gear. Important papers, you're supposed to keep them in a fireproof box, easy to grab in an emergency. Never quite got around to that. If my house burns down, do I pitch a tent or move in with my sister in Porterville? Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a company that will insure a 125 year old historic wood home that doesn't have central heating. They seem to worry about wood burning stoves, even though the house has been around longer than Springville, even before the town was known as "Daunt."

As I turn left on Highway 190 by River Island Golf Course, the smoke could indeed be coming directly from downtown Springville. It no longer looks like a black inverted triangle, but blends in with gigantic cumulus clouds, except for a yellow haze over everything like looking through yellow ski goggles. Past the ranger station the road twists and turns for a few miles until finally it starts to straighten out by the rodeo grounds, and I can finally see that the fire is not in Springville, but not too far beyond.

I have felt blessed from the beginning, when I purchased the house in 1997, that the east and south sides of my property butt up against the CDF (California Department of Forestry) Workstation in Springville. It was once part of 900 acres owned by the man who had the first sawmill on the north fork of the Tule River, James R. Hubbs, who is buried in the Springville Cemetery, formerly the Hubbs Cemetery. I am grateful that there is a fire hydrant 20 feet from my driveway, and a lot of guys next door who can put it to use. Nonetheless, wildfires in one's neck of the woods are never anything to sniff at. Of course my good fortune could be somebody else's misfortune.

I turned on the sprinklers and soaked the yard until late that night. There was a comforting whop, whop, whop of chopper blades carrying water to the fire. Tanker planes were ferrying in fire retardant.

Friday morning, Aug. 13, a fine ash covers my car. The air is pungent with the smell of wood smoke. Evacuations include the small community of Doyle Springs, adjacent to Wishon Campground, and the areas of Balch Park and Bear Creek are being evacuated. At this time everyone has gotten out of the fire's path and there are no known injuries according to a fire information sheet from the Forest Service. Road closures included Highway 190 above Springville and south of Pierpoint

Friday evening, about 7:30 p.m. - downtown Springville almost looks festive, there are so many people about in the three block area. At the park, in the very heart of town, a TV satellite truck is parked. On the somber side, it is clear residents possibly in the path of the fire, have been getting their livestock out of harms way, lots of oversized horse trailers attache to oversized pickup trucks.

Saturday morning a banner headline reads, "Sierras blackened." The story is titled "Wildfire rages through region." An armada of fire fighting vehicles and personnel drive in an almost constant stream by my front door. There are red trucks, green trucks, white buses full of work crews. They come from as far away as Monterey and Ventura. Across the street at the Veterans Building the Red Cross has established an emergency evacuation center although it appears evacuees have other places to stay, as there are only a few vehicles in the parking lot.

Sunday, a fire information sheet says 50 crews, 102 engines, 10 helicopters, 11 dozers with a total personnel of 1,715 have been fighting the blaze. It hardly makes a ripple at the state news level. After all, it's August, fire season in California, ho hum compared to hurricanes in Florida or the Olympics in Athens.

Monday morning the air no longer smells like woodsmoke. But there are still masses of vehicles going up and coming down from the fire area. A crew coming down in a bus is so bushed their orange capped heads just lean against the windows, as if they are already asleep.

There was special concern about some threatened giant Sequoia trees. But the fire is about 55 percent contained at a cost of $1,551,031 and counting. Fire investigators identified the reason for the fire as human-caused; however, it is undetermined whether the cause was accidental or intentional. A reward is being offered. If you have any information, please contact Sequoia National Forest Dispatch at (559) 781-5780.

The evacuation of Balch Park and Bear Creek Roads was lifted at 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 16, for residents only with verifiable identification. Just another fire, but never when it's that close to home. You just want to say thank you to all the firefighters and cooperating agencies including Southern Cal Edison, PG&E, CalTrans, the California Highway Patrol, the Tulare County Sheriff's Department and all of the first responders.

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