Friday, June 5, 2015

The Burning of the Horse Heaven Hills, July 1993

The Horse Heaven Hills burned last Sunday
Exhaust from a wheat truck started the fire
It spread from a small draw to the east
across the south slope of the hills moving west

A strong wind fanned the flames and the fire
inhaling the golden prairie grass
exploding the dry sage
raced across the hills faster than a man could run

The wind shifted and the flames turned and moved north
towards the homes skirting the golf course

Huge, black clouds of smoke
billowed in front of the fire and obscured the flames
Behind the smoke, the sound of the fire was a roar
punctuated by the cannon-shots of exploding sagebrush

The wind turned the fire again and it raced along the crest of the hills
then disappeared down the south slope
Another shift brought the fire back
Fifteen-foot flames shot up across the top of the hill
then spread down the slope to the west

By now, three fire departments from surrounding towns
were fighting the blaze and keeping it from devouring hillside homes
Giant tank trucks lumbered across the hills like prehistoric animals
Fire fighters struggled with hoses ejaculating water
and drowned the flames in one, dramatic explosion of spray

The trucks moved to meet the fire at another home
while volunteers shoveled dirt on the smoldering sage and prairie grass
and dug and turned under still-burning branches

When it was finally over, some 1000 acres had burned
leaving the hills an ugly, black scruff

The lupine, and daisies, the wild phlox, and desert marigolds
burrowing owls, quail, thrush, ground squirrels

A vast hoard of grasshoppers driven from the hills
descended on the lawns and yards of the homes
swarmed over flowers, tress, and hedges
and climbed doors, and clung to windows
staring with their alien, accusing eyes

The acrid smell of smoke hung in the air
and the sunset was blood red

I walked in the hills Monday
stepping through the ashes

There is nothing left
but the cracked earth
the black rock
the smell of devastation

There is no heaven here

"Lo!  the fell monster with the deadly sting,
Who passes mountains, breaks through fenced walls
And firm embattled spears, and with his filth
Taints all the world."

(Dante Alighieri, The Devine Comedy,Canto XVII, Hell)

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