My wife woke me up in the wee hours – “Jesse. Smoke. It smells close.”
I mumbled that it wasn’t and not to worry about it, though it was pungent and did smell… close … but… we hear the sirens when they zoom past at the bottom of the hill and all had been quiet… there couldn’t be anything… plus, it was 3 or 4 in the morning… soooo…
I got up around 6:30AM and the Mrs. had gone to the gym… sure enough the hillsides were covered in a blue haze and a brown funk was settling across the horizon.
Maybe there was something burning out by Lake Elsinore or something.
I grabbed a cuppa and sat out back.
A helicopter suddenly roared overhead, heading down the mountain… helicopters are not unusual in our area… we probably have one or two poking around at low altitudes in our neck of the skies every month or so. I could hear the helicopter fade into the distance but not disappear altogether; it hadn’t gone out of earshot… I sipped my joe and thought I’d better pull up whatever fire news was available online and see where this fire was…
A CalFire site had two nearby fires – one in Lake Elsinore (bingo), but that was 100% contained yesterday (no bingo) and another in Beaumont, only 20% contained. That was the guy. I wondered how far Beaumont was and checked it out. 39 miles. Man, smoke has a way of traveling…
I could hear the helicopter flying back up the canyon now and I thought how cool that helicopters far and wide would go and fight a fire in Riverside county, 39 miles away…
About 2 minutes later, the helicopter roared back over the house again…
Man! Those things can really move! How fast do helicopters fly? I googled it up and saw that an average was around 140mph.
I pulled up the timer on my phone and started it.
A minute later my daughter came outside rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and sat down next to me.
“Hey, dad. Lots of smoke, huh? And a crazy low helicopter, right? It rumbled the house!”
“I know, right? Hey – I’m thinking about something right now. Let’s do some math together, young lady. Helicopters fly 140mph and I think that one is picking up water at the lake right now. If he leaves with a belly full of water, he’s going to be what?”
“Of course; which means what?”
“That he’s going to be going slower than 140mph”
“Good girl. So. I’m timing him right now and -”
The helicopter roared back over the house again and I quickly checked the timer. 4 minutes 40 seconds.
“The timer says just about 5 minutes for his round trips. The fire is 39 miles away. Does that make sense to you? Let’s say he’s going 120 mph. Why did I pick 120mph?”
“Because he’s carrying a heavy load annnnd because it divides nicely into 60.”
“Good girl. So – 5 minutes for each round trip. How far is the fire?”
“Um. 4 or 5 miles??”
“Yep. That’s what I was thinking. Unless, of course, there are multiple helicopters in a line going to the fire 39 miles from here. Let’s take some photos of the heli and see if we can make out any serial numbers on it to see if its the same one or not. You know what – scratch that. Let’s climb up on the roof and take a look see.”
The boys were awake by then and they saw me carrying a ladder and my camera gear through the house. “Woohoo! Dad’s going on the roof! “Au contraire, boys! Shoe’s on! We’re going up on the roof!”
We all scrambled up and saw the heli fly by heading back into the canyon…
And haze laying over everything…
My neighbor walked out and I called out to him. “Hey! Chris! Some smoke, huh?”
He called back, “Yep – Holy Jim fire. Saw it on the news.”
“What?? Holy Jims?! I didn’t see anything about that! Wow! That explains the 4 mile loop! Cool!”
“Yep. I guess it’s contained already, which is good.”
We scrambled down the roof and I got ready for work. Fire scare over. Whew.
Hopped in the car and headed off to work. Helicopters hadn’t been flying for 20 minutes since the last one I saw but as I was heading down the road, I saw one dip over to the lake. Hmmmm… Yes. Must take picture of helicopter drinking from the lake.
I did a quick u-turn, parked and walked over to the lake… he was just taking off as I got there but I figured if was doing some last minute prophylactic water drops on the fire, then he might be back in a few minutes.
As I walked over to the lake, I looked back towards the hills and saw a big fresh plume of smoke erupting.
“Whoa!” I exclaimed to some passerby “That’s not good!”
It got bigger by the minute and where there was no smoke a moment ago, suddenly there was a massive plume reaching skyward and the cavalry started pouring in for the next two hours. Here’s what I shot:
And then, all of a sudden, though there was no perceivable wind, something shifted and just like that, the skies cleared up as if it had never happened. I know the fire didn’t disappear, but if you hadn’t know it was there, you would never have known.