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50 Minutes

Like white on rice. That’s how fast the cargo plane was onto what could have been the next big Pebble Beach fire - and practically at my doorstep, no less.

I watched in shock and awe as the Spruce Goose with orange stripes made wide circles over the bay. It lumbered directly over my roof, barely skimming the 100-foot pines, its gargantuan white belly loaded with fire retardant. Then it disgorged its orange chemicals in a waterfall over the greenbelt merely blocks away.

I had first smelled something acrid and after stepping outside to curse my neighbor for having a fire on such a nice day, I noticed a plume of grey smoke huffing like a cigarette from the trees beyond. A weird wind had come from nowhere and was whipping the smoke straight my way. It required a face mask to stay outside and assess the conflagration – that’s how bad the smoke was, really.

Only the second person to call 911, they asked, “Do you see flames?” And after I replied, “No, there’s too much smoke,” they said a fire engine was on its way.

As I stood perhaps 10 minutes, observing the fire, I began to panic. What if it goes out of control? Will my cats scissor the leather upholstery in my sports car? Which pictures really matter? What do I own that really matters, anyway? Oh, yeah, my computer.

I was stupefied when, no more than five minutes later, on the very heels of the first fire engine, the goose arrived. Obviously, somebody had their act together and it must have been the California forestry department (I’m really not sure because Coast Guard planes are white and orange red too).

With my cat carrier safely at the door I continued to stare at the unfolding drama but not before I called all my neighbors and yelled into the phone, “Fire! Fire! Look down the street . . . Just wanted you to know.”

I had to make a few amends after that. “Sorry, I am known to be an alarmist.”

Anyway, next thing a helicopter was whooshing overhead dragging what looked like a dinosaur’s umbilical cord (Oops! They laid eggs, right?). Several circles over the fire and I noticed the smoke abating, puffing up, abating.

In exactly 50 minutes, the planes and helicopters had vanished and so had the smoke. Disbelieving that a fire of a magnitude requiring a Spruce Goose could be totally extinguished so quickly, and wondering if I’d merely hallucinated the drama, I drove down to what I expected to be acres of charred forest.

Nada. Zip. One of the policemen directing rubberneckers pointed into the bushes but, still, I saw nothing.

To my amazement, I learned several days later that the fire had only consumed one-quarter of an acre. And after a walk in the area I still didn’t see where.

”Pretty incredible that they got a big plane out here so fast, huh?” said a Pebble Beach ranger.

Indeed. And I have changed my mind about a long held opinion that we shouldn’t elevate public servants to heroism because they have chosen their field and get paid for it.
I’ve adopted the “not in my backyard” stance for fires and I will kiss the feet of any aviator, fire person or police person who stands by me . . .


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