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Bike Rides and Burning Bushes
A News Story and Being "Johnny on The Spot."
Yesterday I ran into a very real and present reminder of our world’s Climate Crisis. Details are below.
On Monday afternoon the weather was near perfect for my usual late spring and summer mid-day exercise routine of a ten mile bike ride. It starts on the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail then I circle around Vancouver and back home.
The temperature was high 70’s to low 80s. The sun was glaring. The wind was a bit strong, blowing with gusts up to 15mph. In spite of the headwinds, I still decided to ride just to clear my head a bit.
From home, I rode down 86th Ave, dodging all the incompetent lunatics driving on the road, until I came to one of the entrances for the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail.
The trail was empty except for a small family of Asian Indians, an elderly mother and father walking with their daughter. They were walking down the path in the same direction I was going, towards Andresen Road.
I gave them a heads up before passing so they could make room for me and avoid a collision.
I said thanks as I blew by them.
But not more than 100 feet ahead on the left, I spotted a burning bush, or to be more exact, a burning tree stump on the hillside next to the trail.
The stump was fully engulfed in flames that were reaching ten feet high. This was pretty worrisome since major power lines were overhead only 20 feet more in the air.
While the burning stump wasn’t laying any profound godly advice on me, it did cause me to grab my phone and call 911.
As I was speaking to the 911 operator, I saw the burning tree stump fire was spreading to the vegetation around it.
The operator was trying to ascertain where the fire was. I on the other hand was trying to curtail my panic.
“What? Oh…um…the fire is in the middle of the trail between 86th ave and Andresen…No, not the middle…on the hillside mid-way between…Oh crap it’s moving up the hill! Get someone here quick!”
While I stood there on the phone with 911, the family walked up behind me. The father and daughter stood by watching it, but the mother continued to walk on. Obviously she was more concerned with getting in her 10,000 steps. She smiled at me as she passed, not a hint of concern on her face. Wild.
Considering how strong the wind was, and what direction it was fanning the flames, I decided to move upwind a few dozen yards away to a safer distance on the trail to wait for the fire department.
Another guy rode by on his bike. Apple buds in his ear.
“You got this?” He said as he saw I had my phone out.
“Yeh, The VFD is on its way.”
He rode on.
The flames grew further up the hill.
Another cyclist rode by. He stopped.
“How far does this trail go? It’s my first time riding it.”
His lack of concern about the exploding brush fire to his right kind of troubled me. I figured maybe he was a Californian transplant and was used to such things.
I gave him the information he requested and cautioned him that his return trip could be inconvenienced by the conflagration.
As I chatted with this guy, a young Black man then rode up on his bike. He was dressed only in a pair of shorts and wore a red bandana around his face. Based on the condition of the bike and his well-worn shorts, I assumed he might be from the large homeless encampment that was just down the trail near Andresen Road.
“You think anyone is in there?” He asked the other cyclist and I. We said we had no idea. The young man then dropped his bike and charged up to the edge of the fire. He started yelling into it.
“Anyone in there? Anyone in there?”
After about a half dozen yells or so, the young man comes back over.
“If anyone was in there, I’d go rescue them.”
The other cyclist and I agreed that if anyone was in those flames they might have met their end, and it probably wasn’t wise to go charging into that fire.
The other cyclist prepared to ride on, but first he whipped out his phone and was shooting video or pictures. Probably for his Twitter feed “@new- California-guy-in-PNW.”
I thought to myself, “oh sure… First thing I do is think to take out my phone and call 911, this guy…he thinks it’s selfie time!”
Of course, I then grab my phone to shoot a couple pics for Substack.
Smokey The Bear would probably frown on such things.
I spotted the fire trucks in the distance over on 86th at the bridge and tried waving them down.
Of course getting down to this trail from the road isn’t the easiest for large trucks. The only entrance is over on Andersen and it’s usually chained shut.
I then heard another siren come from the direction of Andresen. The young black man hopped back on on his bike.
“I’m going to ride up to them and help direct them over here.”
“OK, I’ll stay here and keep an eye out for other folks.” I said.
After about what seemed like an eternity, as I watched the brush fire climb up the hillside, the first firetruck arrived.
I gave them a wave and pointed to the fire like a dummy, as if they couldn’t see it. If the words, “ooooh, Firetwuck!” popped out of my mouth right then it would have completed my idiocy.
Three fire men jumped out and within a minute they were spraying water on the stump and the bottom of the hillside flames.
It was right at that moment when I remembered the design of the cycling jersey I chose to wear that day. It was my prized Moab Cyclery shirt that I’ve had for twenty years —and which also was emblazoned with flame designs!
I panicked and thought, “Oh shit! I must look like some kind of psycho Firebug! I better cheese it!”
I climbed back on my bike continued on to the rest of my ten mile ride, all the while hearing endless firetruck sirens coming to help put out the fire.
The resulting adrenaline rush from all the excitement sure made my bike ride go by in record time!
On my return home coasting down 87th to 86th, I saw that the blaze wasn’t out yet and actually looked like it had grown quite a bit!
Thank god that this wasn’t August when the area is a bone dry tinder box. The whole of the trail could have been set ablaze and the fire would have been much, much worse.
When I finally got home, I told Deb about the fire. She was aghast at it but also chuckled at my jersey.
Just after, I grabbed a shower, exited and dried-off a bit, then started to get dressed when my phone rang.
It was the Vancouver Fire Marshall! He was calling to investigate the fire and since I was the first person to call it in, he wanted to know if I had seen anything or anyone that possibly started it.
I told him that unfortunately, I didn’t see anything but a burning tree stump while riding. I then told him about my ironic choice of cycling Jersey and we had a laugh.
At least, I think he laughed.
Or was it just my own nervous cackling I was hearing?
I decided to Joe Friday it and stick to telling him just the facts, no matter how much i wanted to make a joke about Burning Bushes and the Voice of God.
Like I stated, if this had happened in August, that hillside and trail would have been fully engulfed in flames within a matter of minutes. This obviously is no joking matter. One of the things that has concerned me in all the times that I’ve ridden this trail is how much it is overgrown with vegetation, which dries out by mid-Summer, and poses a real fire hazard. Vancouver tries to cut back this growth but they don’t have the manpower or money for a decent job, which means that in the future there could be a very heavy cost to the surrounding homes due to this lack of proper forestry management. The city of Vancouver needs to correct this oversight if it expects to prevent disaster in our quickly heating world.
The other issue that needs to addressed is Homelessness. This fire has yet to be determined if it was man-made or not. However along the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail there are fairly large homeless encampments. If we ever hope to mitigate situations where a campfire gets out of control in an urban forest setting, we need to also invest money in helping people to find affordable, or even free, housing. Vancouver is making steps in the right direction on this but they need to do even more. Unfortunately, that will require more funds and efforts from the federal government, of which the parsimonious short-sighted fools in Congress are unlikely to give.
This of course begs that as a nation we all need to do a hell of lot more to help people. Otherwise we’ll just keep facing preventable future disasters.
The read more about the fire click here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Yes, yes, I know. This post wasn’t very funny. Don’t worry. I’m currently working on a new comic and it’ll be arriving a few days.
I thought this experience and the topics it brings up needed to be told.