Even back away from the front lines the pall of smoke hung heavy in the air, flavoring every breath with piñon and mesquite. The night never darkened to black. The fire’s blaze cast an orange glow that never eased, never even seemed to dim. As they made their way toward the fire shack Sienna stumbled over loose rock and shale.
Sienna climbed out of her dusty Ford pick-up truck; her eyes trained o the glowing sky and rising smoke ahead of her. There were dozens of people moving about the gravel parking lot of the Mesa Verde National Park entrance. Piles of equipment and supplies had been dumped haphazardly around the area, which had been filled with tourist’s cars and mini-vans only twenty-four hours ago. Stacks of tents, fire- repellant clothing and five-gallon bottles of drinking water as well as heaps of boxes piled four feet high made walking a straight line impossible. The smell of smoke was so strong here that it overwhelmed even the smells of unwashed firemen ad diesel truck fumes coming from the fire trucks linking the dirt roadway into Mesa Verde. The wind whipped hard enough to send papers, clothing and half empty containers skittering across the gravel and lashed her hair against her face. Her eyes still on the not so distant glow of the fire Sienna grabbed a fist full of hair at the nape of her neck and took a deep, calming breath. She could do this.
Her response to fire was primal and fierce. Growing up in southern California fire had been a part of her life as long as she could remember. One of her earliest memories was of being packed into the car by her parents and racing through the night up the wind whipped hills in Santa Isabella trying to reach friends in time to help pack out treasures and belongings before their homes were engulfed in flames. Fire was terrifying. It came in the night and stole everything and it returned every few years to again consume great swaths of her hometown and the surrounding hills and canyons. People often thought of California only as a lush tropical paradise, but Santa Isabella and much of central and southern California was technically subtropical desert dressed up by Hollywood and the state’s many millionaires to resemble paradise. The chaparral, oak and eucalyptus loved to burn in the dry years.
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