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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Run

     Run. It was the last word Petra heard from her crew boss "Big" Dan Chief when the weather shifted. That's what she was doing now as the fire cracked and popped at her heels. Super-heated embers fell like burning snow as she fled the wind-driven flames. She was singed, blinded by the smoke, and coughing but she wasn't going to stop. Could not stop.
  They were a crew of ten cutting a fire break near the top of the ridge. The break wouldn't stop the fire but it might slow it, or contain it for a few precious moments, maybe help the evacuations and give the water bombers time to get up here and drop their fire retardant loads.
   This was a war, another dry year in a string of dry years, and the whole forest was a short fuse. One spark and everything exploded like a bomb. No rain now, none for weeks, and none expected to come.
    Petra stumbled, fell, and rolled shedding her gear. Her axe, shovel, the forty pound pack she carried, even the fire-resistant tarp-she could have dug in and hid beneath it if there was time-all gone. Run. Down. Keep going down. It was summer and warm dry winds from the south had held the flames to the northern forests. Why did it change today? Vicious gusts from the north starting pushing, pushing, pushing destruction south where the creek beds, the swamps, everything was sun-baked as dry as paper.
     Heat and smoke rolled and roared. Flames overtopped the pine forest now dangerously flammable like gasoline.
   Run. How long? Don't stop. Everything burning. Run.
   Petra broke through to a hydro line, a wide clear-cut swath of grass running northwest to southeast. Overhead power lines hummed as they carried electricity from the dams on northern rivers to towns and cities in the south.
    The ground evened out here. It had been cleared and graded by the power company. Choices. Which way? Away. Away from the flames, away from her friends and workmates, away from the roiling boiling death that burnt at her heels.
   Burning ash fell and ignited the tall grasses at her feet. The far trees seemed to shiver in the wind as the fire roared closer.
   Petra turned left, to the southeast. She'd seen from the helicopter that dropped them off just a few hours earlier there was a cut, or canyon, or something there she could hide in, stay low. Even if she did escape the heat the smoke could still suffocate her.
   Run. Don't stand still, don't stop. Just run.

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