Archive for September 5th, 2019

QUIET HEROISM

September 5, 2019

There are only three fires burning in Oregon in early September, and none is anywhere near the west Cascades.  It’s been a great summer with near normal temperatures and even some rain, for the first time in six summers I have been here. Few have heard of the Eureka Ridge fire, and for good reason: no fire was called that this year.  But, had it not been for a few amateur astronomers, we would have had a nasty conflagration not far south of us.  

In late August, several from the local astronomy club were observing the night sky from a dark site, and science fiction writer-amateur astronomer-has done just about everything Jerry Oltion writes “Some rocket scientists were shooting guns down on the knob below our observing site …which has happened before, so we didn’t think much of it until we noticed they had a fire going. They seemed to be shooting into the fire, and every now and then there would be a big flare of flame, as if they were shooting explosive rounds.”

Reminded me of Arizona in April 2017, where an off duty Border Patrol person was firing explosive rounds in the desert during one of the windiest, driest months of the year, and started the 45,000 acre Sawmill Fire in eastern Pima County.  

“We saw three people milling around…so we figured they were putting it out. The first one [fire] never quite went all the way out, though. The sky got darker, and we figured these fine specimens of human intelligence were camping out…until we watched their car leave. With the fire still burning. 

We were so incredulous that we thought they must have left somebody there, and maybe one of them had driven off to get more beer or something, but the fire began to grow and eventually we saw a small tree catch fire and whoosh into flame like a torch.”

They tried to create a firebreak—with their feet—and called 911 with a GPS reading of the location.  It took two hours for a fire team to appear on the scene. In the meantime, they discovered the shooters had been firing at propane canisters. “We found  a number of them, each with a bullet hole all the way through. They had started a fire and set up propane tanks in front of it and when they burst a propane tank they would get a huge fireball. Spectacular, I must admit. And what could possibly go wrong?”

“When they did…arrive, they put out the fire in short order. They sprayed down the flames with water, then ripped apart the log pile with axes and Pulaskis (probably the single most effective firefighting tool made) and sprayed water on the smoking remains until they had a mud pit.”

This was an easy fire to extinguish.  An hour later, it would have been off to the races. By morning, there would have been a smoke plume, and a few million dollars and weeks later there would be another ugly scar on the land. 

All because of the gun culture.

Yes, the gun culture.  I know this isn’t fair to the majority of gun owners who lock their guns up when not using them, are knowledgeable in gun safety, want background checks to be universal, and obey the law.  But the few ruin it for the many, and frankly it’s time the gun culture got punished for the bad apples just the way I have for my whole life.  Just like I got sworn at or things thrown at me when I rode the bike, because of a few bad apples who ran lights, flipped off cars, and hogged the road, those who shoot up road signs, shoot early on the weekend, leave messy campsites with beer bottles, shell casings, and other trash left behind ruin it for the good guys.  Rich doctors who play golf and don’t take care of their patients? I was harangued once when I got to a consult late on a weekend day, because I had seen half a dozen others, and was greeted by, “Did we pull you off the golf course?”  A few blab about patient records and we have HIPAA.  Patient dumping occurred by some, and we got EMTALA.  Sloppy labs in offices, and we got CLIA.  Jerks in the wilderness, and I have to get a permit.  Life can be hard.  When the gun and the logging culture intersect, a lot of logging leaves slash piles that may well have been what these people used as a backdrop for propane canister shooting.  

I had to obey traffic laws on the bike or risk a ticket.  Fair enough. I had to make sure our ED did a medical evaluation on every patient or we could be sanctioned.  Fortunately, I had good professionals who did it, much as it was a big inconvenience at times. Gun owners need to obey gun laws or risk the same.  I didn’t start a 45,000 acre fire in Arizona or leave a burning fire in the Umpqua drainage in Oregon. 

I doubt these people will be caught, and if so, they aren’t likely to be punished.  They are men in the outdoors, not outdoorsmen. To me, they have just forfeited their right to own firearms.  They have the mental illness called terminal stupidity, and even the president thinks that mentally ill should not be in possession of guns.  At least today. If push came to shove, he’d cave on that, too.

Amateur astronomers were heroes.  Jerry recommended bringing more than a telescope to Eureka Ridge next time—five gallons of water, a shovel, and a Pulaski.