CZU Lightning Complex Fire

The Mountains of the Moon

I know the Mountains of the Moon are a place in Africa near the headwaters of the Nile river. It’s a name of a place I have heard about somewhere before. I liked the sound of it so I filed it away in my mental Rolodex for future use. I never thought I’d be in a place where I’d use it to describe a location. After my first trip back to Last Chance yesterday however, I can say without a doubt that’s how I’d describe the place now.

For weeks I’ve been dealing with the trauma of having to flee for my life from the conflagration. I’ve been doing a lot better lately, but I’ve been needing to return to further the healing process. It’s something that I’ve been dreading, but needed to do. Just knowing about how bad it was was one thing, but I needed to see it with my own eyes. Yesterday was finally the day I decided to go back up there.

As soon as I turned off Highway 1 to head up Last Chance, the scale of the destruction hit me. At the bottom, there were quite a few homes that miraculously survived the inferno. Of course there were some burned out homes, but that particular area fared better than I had supposed it would. When I turned up Last Chance Rd. however, it was like a gut punch. Everything along the 7 mile stretch was completely obliterated. The whole forest for miles and miles was complete ash. I’ve never seen such a complete obliteration of nature. Where there was beautiful redwood forest and lush greenery everywhere, there was now just differing shades of gray and black.

It just got worse the further I went. The road was in really bad shape, and barely navigable even for The Beast. A couple of times I met other vehicles and had to do some tricky reversing to get out of the way. On my way up Shelby Mountain, where I was living, I ran into Catdaddy and Jacob coming back down. Catdaddy had brought up his trailer for Jacob to live in while he’s working on cleaning up his property. They were scouting the driveway up to see if it was possible to get the trailer up there.

I got out of their way after greeting them, and proceeded to head on up to the property up top. They were going to have to do a bit of chainsawing to clear a path, so I wanted to have a moment up there by myself to come to terms with things. Jacob warned me that it was very hazardous in the footprint of the cabins from chemicals and sharp debris, and to wear a mask and have on boots if I wanted to poke around. He had actually been wearing a full Tyvek suit himself doing cleanup. The environmental people said that things were highly toxic from all the chemicals released by the fires so none of us wanted to get sick.

I was completely stunned when I got to the top of the mountain. It was hard to tell where everything had been, the destruction was so complete. I was really wondering about the fate of the things I had left behind, so I started poking around in the ruins of my cabin. I found my skillet (which was amazingly intact, but quite rusted) and my precious machete. The machete was warped and ruined, a testimony to the heat of the fire.

All of my possessions I could find.

The heat of the fire was so intense, it was like a forge up there. There were puddles of molten metal everythere. There was a big pile of beef bones stacked up that Jacob’s dogs had chewed on, when I stepped on them they crumbled into dust. It chilled me to the bone knowing that I was almost reduced to nothing but a pile of dusty bones myself.

Me at the exact spot where I stood when I saw and heard the fire coming at me and realized I had to run for my life.

As I was poking around taking pictures, Catdaddy and Jacob came back up and we had some beer and just talked about things. We were trying to crack jokes and make as much light of the situation as we could, but it was still really tough to deal with. After a bit, I took Catdaddy down to the base of the mountain so he could drive up the camper.

He drove it back up sucessfully, and the three of us donned Tyvek suits and gloves to remove Jacob’s water bladder. The remains of the bladder was resting on the flattest, best spot on the property to put the camper. We got it out of the way after a bit of difficulty. Catdaddy then manuvered the camper into place, and voila, Jacob now has a place to stay back on his property. He was really stoked, and we were happy for him.

Jacob with his new digs. It’s not much, but it’s a first step on the long road to recovery for him and his property.

After we got the camper moved in, I felt it was time to leave. I was mentally and physically exhausted and needed to get back down the mountain to recuperate. They were going to spend the night and drink beers. I would have loved to have hung out, but I can barely drink due to some medication I’m on so I had to pass.

Well, that’s the story of my return to what is now a lunar landscape. It really opened up a lot of wounds that I had thought were healing. Writing this blog post really helped clear my head. I’m so glad I have this creative outlet. In closing, I want to post a video I made of two of Jacob’s cats before the fire. It’s hard to watch, but I thought I’d post it anyways in their memory.