Monday, June 29, 2015

Fire on the Mountain, Sheep in the Hills!

This is the fifth and final part of "Oh the Places we've been and the Critters we Saw", about the recent road trip Mitzi and I took to visit our favourite places, people, and critters on the BC mainland.  We left our readers up in Lillooet, as we prepared for the three hour drive back to our campsite near Hope.  And what an adventure that return trip was!

I was only about fifteen minutes along the winding road back to camp .  Suddenly, I was seeing mountain sheep flying and leaping in front of me - up the steep slope below me, over the barrier along the edge of the road, across the road and up the steep slope above me.  In the course of  just a few miles, I must have seen a couple of dozen of them. There was no traffic on the road, so I slowed to a crawl, knowing my little Honda Fit would be no match for a flying mountain sheep.  Then one polite sheep halted almost mid bounce on the other side of the barrier, so I stopped the car and rolled down the passenger window to grab a photo.

To my surprise, he stepped right up to the barrier and from a distance of about three feet, peered in the open window.

Next he turned sideways to offer me a profile shot, before stepping slowly over the barrier, crossing in front of the car and bounding up into the hills.  I was on a natural high.

You don't plan to add a convict number to
this photo, do you?

But it didn't take long to temper that high.  Driving south, I could see a significant haze rising from the valley and drifting around the mountain tops.  Heat? Pollution?  Smoke?  Was there a forest fire blocking my route back to camp?   At the first opportunity, I pulled over to get a better look.
Haze? Smog?  Smoke?

Still hard to tell, so I continued on my way.  But the further south I drove, the more sure I was that a forest fire was burning in the valley below, and quickly spreading up the mountains on the other side,  fueled by our very dry forests and hastened on by a very brisk wind.

Strong wind blowing smoke up valley

The road I was travelling was in no danger as the valley was wide and the fire heading north west to my south. But I couldn't resist frequent stops to check on its progress, to watch this beautiful though horrific display of nature's power.

By the time I was half way back to camp, I realized my lonely road was the perfect vantage point for shooting the fire - and so did the media, as I was met at each stop by one or more news crews and their videographers - CTV, Global, CBC, Shaw, as well as still photographers for local and provincial newspapers. Other than the occasional local resident, it was just them and me, shoulder to shoulder.  That was thrill number two of the trip back to camp.

Watching news crews at work

As if the thrill of taking photographs along side the "real photographers" wasn't enough, a helicopter suddenly appears through the smoke, almost at eye-level to us, and began its job of dumping water on the flames then turning and going back down to the river below to grab another belly load of water and coming back again - and again - and again - and again. Thrill number three.

I watched, mesmerized, as trees candled into flame, as trucks began to arrive on scene below, as hillsides lit up with fire and heavy smoke turned black then gold as it drifted across the sun.

Trees candling - going up like matchsticks

Forest ablaze

The speed at which that human-caused fire spread is emblazoned in my mind.  I later learned that the Cisco Road Fire, which was about four hectares at the time I saw the first signs of smoke, and spread to nearly sixty during the hour or two I watched it, was 1200 hectares by the next morning.  Today, three weeks after it began, it covers over 2000 hectares and is 70% contained.

There will, sadly, be many more fires like this over the summer.  All fires are tragic - for the wildlife, for the environment, and often for humans too.  None make me angrier than those caused by discarded cigarettes or careless campers - and we are seeing a lot of those this year.

With that in mind, Mitzi and I headed back to camp with our friends Ann and Ken where we spent the evening reading or playing cards instead of singing songs round a fire.  Mitzi did amazingly well at camping, even sleeping in the tent without complaint - but I confess she practically kissed the floor when we returned to my friends' home in the Fraser Valley a few days later.

Ah did not! Ah just reclaimed mah
favourite chair!

The day after our return to Ann's and Ken's, I spent a morning re-connecting with Keaghan, my late friend Bonnie's Irish Wolfhound who now lives with his new family in the Fraser Valley.  We all went for a walk in the woods with an assortment of other dogs too.

Keaghan and his new fur sister Keevagh

Kieran, Keaghan and Keevagh

And after nearly two weeks relying on our friends' hospitality, it was time to head back to the island.  Ann and Ken, with whom I'd stayed, were still smiling - or perhaps they were very happy to see me go!

Can we stop smiling now?
Is she really leaving?

And so it is back to island life, where the weather is hot and the days are slow.  If you've enjoyed the photographs in this series, please check back on Wednesday, Canada Day, for my annual tribute to my beautiful country, showcasing some of my favourite shots of the past twelve months.  I think you'll like it.


Marie said...

What a wonderful surprise to read about your trip to Lillooet and elsewhere, the family there is looking so happy as usual. It is wonderful to read your writings again and to see the great photos, captions are priceless as well.
Sparkle and I hope to see you and Mitzi in August when we come for a visit to the Island, I trust that Mitzi will not be so shy, as Sparkle is more her size!
Good to have you back!!!

Robin Duke said...

Beautiful photos Jean!!

Anonymous said...

Nice to see keaghan again, looks like he has settled into a great setup for him, having another wolfhound as a buddy. Barb H.

CarolineA said...

Keaghan looks very happy! So glad to see an update on him.
Those pics you took of the fire were amazing. When we drove through Litton the fire there had just started and the sight was humbling and gorgeous at the same time. That was two weeks ago.

Love the mountain sheep, loved all your blogs about your trip with Mitzi. What a wonderful vacation and so cool that you took us along!

Erika said...

Amazing pictures!!