Where there’s smoke …

At 4 a.m., someone fired up a barbecue. Or at least it smelled like one – minus the aroma of grilled chicken or hot dogs.

Slurry bomber for blog

Firefighting plane drops retardant on Panorama fire/Waterman Canyon, Calif.; 2012 (c. Holly Ocasio Rizzo)

The wind had shifted during the night, carrying smoke from a wildfire more than 10 miles away as the buzzard flies.

Lights snapped on in the neighborhood. Nobody sleeps when there’s smoke. They worry.

We still see the scars of the massive 2003 arson-caused wildfire that scorched a path to our road and took out seven houses a couple of roads away – more than 1,000 houses in all. People still talk about the two-week evacuation, about knowing someone who was burned out, about rebuilding and those who never returned.

There’s delight when an animal comes back, as the quail finally did last year. But in my lifetime, the forest will not return as it was before the fire.

Drift smoke and dry grass nodding in the wind remind us that the dry season has come early this year. It’s time to prepare. Time to check the house insurance, update the written and photographic inventory of household goods, store the inventory off the mountain, keep pet carriers handy and set precious items aside, ready to go.

The outdoors buzzes on weekends with the sound of weed-whackers. There is much to do: pull down dead branches, cut back limbs and bushes that have crept too close to houses, rake up and haul away old pine needles and cones.

Because you never know, when you first smell smoke, whose fire it really is.

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