Saturday, July 14, 2012

Independence and Community

The 4th of July always makes me think of being a kid. All of the neighbors would gather to combine everyone’s fireworks into one show and it ended up being a somewhat exhilarating and fun communal event. 

The fireworks that we set off 30 years ago were mild in comparison to what people have access to today. The last couple of years our little valley has been filled with flashing lights and smoke and terrifying explosions on a level to compete with nearby Dodger Stadium

The video above shows a little of the Dodger Stadium show in the distance and then the stuff being set off just down the hill from the house. 

Earlier in the week our neighbors had invited us to come down on the 4th to a party at their mother's house. They said that there was going to be lots of food and drink and even more fireworks than last year (gulp). We came home early from another party to stop by and to keep an eye on the hill. Alex thought that we should be home just in case anything happened. Last year's fireworks seemed pretty intense and the thought that this year was supposed to be more impressive was a little alarming. 

I was also looking forward to the opportunity to get to know everyone a little better. I've lived here for almost 5 years now and I only know a few of the people that live around us. The neighborhood has been through a lot of change in the time I've been here, and a fare amount of struggle. The neighbors next door and across the street have been foreclosed on. Other neighbors have retired and moved away and new families have moved in and started to fix things up. From our vantage point up on the hill I've watched new roofs go on but can also see where blue tarps serve as the only waterproofing for stalled projects. My own renovation has been on hold for years, first while I decided if I could afford to stay, then as I went through the painstaking mortgage modification process, then as I slowly tried to save money to finish the work. 

The party was fun and the fireworks were exhilarating. The neighbor and his friends put on a pretty impressive show. They had actually moved further down the hill away from our house, in part because it was closer to his mom's house but also to get away from the dry grass on the open hill. It's unfortunate that the 4th takes place in July when everything is brown and we haven't had rain for months. 

There were many other people setting off fireworks in the valley and it seems that not all of them were as careful as they could have been. It was at the point when it felt the night was winding down that someone pointed up the hill and shouted.

There was a small fire burning above our house in the neighbor's yard. This was the property that had been foreclosed on. The previous owner hadn't cleared the hill for fire season and the investors that bought it at auction were more interested in getting the remaining tenants to pay their rent than in maintaining the yard. 

The fire was near where I had planted a silk floss tree so there was a hose nearby. I ran up the hill and started spraying the fire. I was able to put the fire out pretty quickly and felt like a hero for a moment until I looked further up the hill and saw another fire about ten times as big moving up the hill towards the bees and chicken coop. 

When I got up to that fire our young neighbor Gio was already there calmly using a metal pipe to push dirt onto the leading edge of the fire to keep it from spreading. He asked if I had a shovel and as I ran down to get it Alex stretched the hose as far as it would go to spray the bushes that were starting to catch fire. By the time I got back with the shovel I could hear sirens and see the fire trucks pulling out of Station #1 that is visible a few blocks away. We all kept shoveling and spraying but by this time the fire stretched for a hundred feet above us. It was soon out of reach of the hoses and only Gio's shovel was any use. 

Faster than seemed possible we saw firefighters on the hill with shovels of their own and then a couple more pulling a fire hose up from the street. They quickly had the fire under control and then extinguished. To me it felt like only 5 minutes had passed since the first person shouted but Alex told me it was more like half an hour. That still seems like such a short amount of time for the whole scene to play out. I feel fortunate that we live so close to the fire station. I've seen them put out three fires since I've lived here but this was the closest one by far. 

 When the fire was out I walked back down the hill and learned what everyone else had been up to. Most of them had raced up the hill after us but didn't know the paths to take and were blocked by the retaining wall and the steep cliff. They used the ladder to climb up the wall but still didn't have a clear path to get up. One 14 year old boy stood on the wall and sprayed water on our roof in case the fire turned toward the house. I'm still not sure how Gio got up unless he sprang over the 6 foot gap between the wall and the hill.

The next day you could see how the fire had curved around my property and up the hill. I think if Gio hadn't been so quick the the larger trees and bushes in my yard would have gone up and I might not have been able to save the chickens and turkeys. 

The photos above and below are taken from the same place. The bottom one is just a few feet to the left. You can see the roof of the turkey coop and the bee hives in front of it.

Mostly it was the grass that burned. There were a few small bushes but but they just got scorched. I don't know how the damn Ailanthus trees were untouched. Maybe that's why they're so successful, they're indestructible.

This arroyo lupine looks pretty dead, but it looked dead before the fire too. All of the natives go dormant in the summer. Once it rains, I expect it will leaf out again.

So that was our 4th of July. It will be a memorable one for me. But rather than remembering how the smoke smelled, or how the fire lit the sky red, or how out of breath I was from running up the hill, I'll remember how the neighbors invited us to come to a party, and forced a bunch of food on us and told us stories about growing up on the street.  And I'll remember how they all dropped their drinks to run towards danger to help us.

I'm grateful to my neighbors, but I'm not surprised. People in a community look out for each other, they see the value in knowing each others names and family relationships and who drives what car. They give each other space but also know when to lend a hand. I'm reminded again of when I was a kid and would stand out on the street with everyone and look up at the sky to see the next explosion of sparks. It's nice to come together to celebrate but it's also nice to have a few people around in case you need a bucket brigade.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty much my worst nightmare, the fire part I mean, not the neighbors. Glad you and your animals are ok!