Report from the Badlands

Trial by Fire

There, but for the grace of Dog go I. That’s what rattled around in my head as I read about those unfortunate – but resourceful — folks who lost their homes in the Croy fire near Morgan Hill the other week.

Back in ’93, us New Idrians, who also live reclusively away from the rest of society, came within a crosswind away of the same devastating fate. I’m not making this up either. Just a few miles from the Whimsy Mining Co. compound, some city slicking yahooing camper decided to fire bomb an anthill – in the middle of September. Ain’t that brilliant?

I remember it like yesterday – which means the memory is murky but let me give it a stab. It was a beautiful day. All of us New Idrians – that means all four of us – had turned out for the First Annual Orange Acres Renaissance Faire. A magical day, and the fete was like a slice out of time some 500 years ago.

With the gusto of a blacksmithee, I tackled my “character” – the ye olde town whore. I strolled around with my arms and neck shackled in wooden public stocks. My sister Mel, tambourine rattling in hand, played a tarty “wench” selling flowers – well, foxtails, anyway – and she was quite the comely lass although her handlebar mustache at that time was only a fuzzy shadow of what it is now. My brother Kemp was selling rocks to those who wanted to participate in a ye olde town “stoning” of a highgrader caught stealing benitoite. And Mayor Orange the Cat was trying to organize a ye olde midget toss – I know, I know! We told him it was a tasteless idea, discriminatory, and politically incorrect (although that last term wouldn’t be in circulation for another 500 years if we were really in the Renaissance). So he went out to catch a bunch of gophers to be the “tossees.”

Everyone stumbled around holding hand-sewn ye olde leather mugs. When we dipped the soft sterns into the “ale barrel” (a vat of flat Old Milwaukee), they leaked like sieves. No matter! We took turns dunking each other in the vat.

It was at the height of all this merry mayhem when we smelled burning weeds and brush wafting over us from down the road. We looked up and saw a huge plume of hellish smoke funneling toward the sky.

Kemp grabbed ye olde telephone and called CDF.

Within 20 minutes, helicopters were dumping buckets of water over the blazing hills as cargo planes unleashed orange retardant overhead (something that will no longer be available locally if the Hollister brain trust keeps operating). Crews were trucked in within the hour, and what a heart-stopping sight it was to see them form a line on the steep slopes to make a break in the fire’s march toward Orange Acres.

You can imagine the motley bunch that greeted the heroes with open arms: Mel, with her ye olde “hussy” skirts flapping; me, still stuck in the stocks but now sporting a gaudy three-pointed court jester’s cap on my head; Kemp, with a leaky leather beer mug in his hand; and Mayor Orange with a gopher hanging from his mouth. We weren’t “in character” anymore and we looked like hell. But we were never so grateful. We rolled the barrel of beer down the road to the firefighters’ staging area and Mel, the “wench,” made ye olde hamburgers for the brave lads.

So when I read about those people in the Morgan Hill outback losing everything to a wildfire, and then thought about how many more could have lost their homes and even their lives if it weren’t for the CDF, I was dumbfounded by recent (and past) actions of Hollister’s City Hall which, apparently, couldn’t give a ye olde flying spit ball about keeping CDF in San Benito.

But why should they? The staff and civic leaders of Hollister City Hall have fire services in their town.

I know exactly why the people in the Morgan Hill “boonies” and other remote areas choose to live where they do. It’s to put as much distance between themselves and civic leaders as possible.

And I’m sure they feel the same way about their homes as we do about ours here in New Idria. Our home may consist of only a few trailers scattered around a useless toxic canyon, our water may be orange and poisonous and fit for only a mad-hatting mutant two-headed frog, and our commute to the closest milk bottle may be 70 miles away – but this is the last place for us. We aren’t moving anymore. It’s our castle.

All we need now is a moat.

San Carlos Creek Update: Our City Attorney Lawnmower Man made an announcement at the last Orange Acres City Council meeting.

“We are upping the rent we charge for CDF to use our airspace above San Benito Mountain by two billion percent,” he said. “We need the money to pay for that sewage spill fine and those mandated outhouse improvements.”

We didn’t get to vote on it, though why the Orange Acres city staff should get to make decisions on issues that affect everyone within a 200-mile radius mystifies me. Since losing CDF, we now have jerry-rigged a ye olde fire abatement system consisting of four miles of intertwining rotten garden hoses all coming out of the toxic orange creek like the snakes on Medusa’s head. It looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption.

But when we tested it out, it was like throwing napalm on burning tires. I guess that’s what you get when you trade in one liability for another.

Comments about the Badlands? Email Kate “lock, stock and barrel” Woods at [email protected]

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