I had to see it although I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Yet there is beauty to the land amongst the devastation of the Yarnell fire. It is spotty with some homes singed, others flattened and some still standing. Very difficult to wrap my head around.
Saw the recognizable contour of the Weaver Mountains from about 20 miles north. Wasn’t until I approached Peeples Valley that I saw the char between the boulders stark protrusions and the sharp contrast of a ruddy line on scrubby foliage from the air dropped retardant that saved the block-long business district of blink-and-you-missed-it Peeples Valley.
Although State Route 89 had opened to the public that morning traffic was minimal, and not in a hurry. It was though drivers approached Yarnell with a bit of reverence, and I hope respect. The main drag looked like a typical sleepy summer day except for the prolific amount of security presence of fire, police, utility companies, gov agencies and saw-horse signs stating the side roads are closed except to local homeowners.
I crept into town, not really knowing where to start or go. I wasn’t sure my Yarnell drivers license would get me past those signs with only a PO box. Yet no one stopped me as I barely rolled through the 4 blocks of town.
I stopped at friend Patty’s bead and antique store because she was open. I knew her home survived. We chatted about the activities of the last week while I waited for a call from Berta so we could rendezvous somewhere. I felt a sense of calm, or maybe procrastination to enter the fire struck part of the community where I live half the year.
No one stopped me at the road closed sign into Glen Illah and I followed a rig with a “media 5” decal from somewhere. That made me a little angry, but I soon slowed to no more than 3 mph stunned by what spread around me and forgot all else.
A building standing surrounded by charred remains as if the fire knew where the property lines of man lie. APS trucks and bulldozers everywhere, people working to restore some sense of sanity.
At Berta’s request I first drove by another friends devastated home where he were supposedly digging in the ash but had instead realized the job was too big so I didn’t find him. I slowly made a loop around one of the many curvy roads to head for my own driveway.
Both sides of the road had these geometric silvery shapes with very little topography, maybe a tireless car and the twisted remains of fence. Yet still the scattering of other homes still standing amongst the burn.
The low scrub gone, a layer of charcoal on the hard baked ground, and stark silhouettes of the various height oak exposed the rounded boulders suddenly standing out more than ever. Almost a winter scene on negative film. A cleansing has occurred.
As I drove over the wash the view was open due the loss of foliage and I could see a silly natural wood and stone sculpture placed on a large boulder years ago, untouched.
Friend and neighbor Gail’s house stands as before, and she has water to be boiled as the systems are repaired yet won’t return until the power is back on. The spottiness of charred ground caused confusion.
My shed stands with a new patina, doors open. But it’s not the first place I head. Instead I just wander around trying to take this in.
Finally, I just have to look. This small tin shed, packed floor to ceiling with boxes and tubs of I’m not even sure what anymore has been reduced to an eight inch blanket of white ash. Vaporized. Several ceramic bowls and crocks lay at the opening, mostly brittle and cracked although a few seem fine if not just a little dirty. Mom’s cookie jar smiles out of the gloom.
I wasn’t wearing the right footwear to step into this mess yet couldn’t stop from stirring in the closest ashes and discovered a few spared treasures.
It took a while to walk to Berta’s not because of the physical distance. Her house has always been a second home to me.
Yet it is a dangerous structure right now so I didn’t venture too closely.
So many inconsistencies. Such a feeling of confusion.
Now time to clean up. Many volunteers and locals help with clearing up the remains. Think I’ll buy a cheap pair of boots at the thrift store, get a shovel and rubber tubs to save the ashes until I have more time to sift through it all.
And when the new growth returns, as it will, new beauty will surround our currently stark and charred neighborhood. Life goes on in this ever changing world.
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