My final OT session was yesterday (Thursday, June 25th) and so I had reason to make the 64 mile drive south down the Parks Highway to Wasilla; in so doing I drove through the Willow area. It occurred to me I’ve never actually seen an area recently burned by a wildfire and so I was basically clueless as to what I would see. Much to my surprise it was actually rather limited in scope but then this was only what I could view from the highway as I had no intention of wandering around the area. I began to see burned areas perhaps four miles north of Willow and recognized the destruction was extremely haphazard in nature; in some areas wide swaths of forest were burned but in others just pockets of forest and grassy areas were blackened with other areas immediately adjacent untouched. I also witnessed a couple of apparently intact dwellings surrounded by blackened forest; this bore testimony to the valor and skill of the hero firefighters and possibly some die-hard locals.The air was just a bit hazy but I believe this was due to the slowly breaking down temperature inversion we’ve experienced across this week but the instantly recognizable smell of ‘wildfire’ was everywhere. Along with the smell were numerous signs thanking the firefighters; in addition there were official signs designating command centers, a heli-pad, and marshaling points. I also did see a few fire vehicles off the road in burned areas. The main town of Willow appeared to be untouched by the fire but was mostly surrounded by burned areas especially to the north and east. While driving through Willow I tried to imagine how it would have appeared with smoke and active fire all around the outskirts; it would have been very frightening!
I must admit that I had expected to see more damage given all the reports and aerial coverage but was very pleased to see a relative dearth of destroyed buildings. This is not to minimize the destruction wrought by the Sockeye Fire; it was very costly and only because of the heroic actions of the firefighters and immediate action on the part of the Mat-Su Borough in getting evacuation plans functioning were no lives lost. Even so it was a debilitating fire and something no one would want to experience if given a choice. It is up to we Alaskans to insure our sisters and brothers receive all the assistance they require to put their lives back together. While heartbreaking to lose one’s home and possessions to such an event in the end it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been especially as Mother Nature did not cooperate. In the final analysis possessions are just ‘things’ but life is special and also irreplaceable.
Concentration of firefighting vehicles just north of Willow
Burned areas on both sides of the Parks north of Willow
Close up of burned Boreal Forest
Fire truck heading north on the Parks Highway
Across the past four days I’ve been reminded once again of some of the prices one pays for living in this majestic state; this time said ‘price’ is in the form of the residue from wildfires. Last Thursday I made my every other week drive into Palmer to pick up donated food stuffs for the Upper Susitna Valley Food Pantry at which I’m a volunteer; just south of Willow (maybe 35 miles south of Talkeetna) I noticed the Talkeetna Mountains were shrouded in what appeared to be fog. Within another five miles I knew this was not fog as I could smell the smoke from wildfires. I knew there were two blazes burning in the Kenai (the Funny River fire and the Tyonek fire) but I was unaware the smoke from these fires had managed to make it so far to the northeast. By the time I arrived at the warehouse in Palmer visibility was down to less than a mile and the acrid smell of wildfire was everywhere. By the time I finished getting my own donations and assisting others with their loads my eyes felt like they’d been sandblasted; thankfully I keep Visine in my car so I could mitigate the effects of the smokey air. It was a shock to realize I couldn’t see the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountains normally so prominent in this small town just north of Anchorage; as I tuned in local radio stations I heard of the air quality warnings for the entire Anchorage Bowl. NWS was advising people remain indoors and if outside not to indulge in any strenuous activities. As I began my 70 mile drive north to the Pantry and home I couldn’t help but notice the thick, acrid smoke which was even blotting out the sun. And this started me thinking…
I wondered about our four brave fallen heroes from the Benghazi mission: Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. I wondered if the last thing they saw as they fought for their lives and prayed for the assistance that inexcusably would never arrive was thick, acrid smoke. I wondered if Woods and Doherty’s eyes burned with the same gritty, roughness that my own did while they heroically held off a hugely superior force for many hours. And I hoped and prayed that none of them realized that they struggled in vain, that politics and ineptitude were coming together to ensure there would be no rescue that dark, fiery night in Benghazi.
It’s now been almost two full years yet ‘We the People’ still have no answers regarding crucial questions in this outright attack upon America. There have been no arrests and although our lame-stream media has been able to interview the supposed perpetrators in local cafes we still do not know where our Commander In Chief was that evening or what exactly happened during those first four dreadful hours. We do not know how the administration initially responded to this horrific news. We do know the symbol of America in Libya, our ambassador, was slain along with another state department employee and two heroic ex-SEALs working as protective officers. We know they begged for assistance for hours while they fought against numerically superior numbers armed with larger and more diverse weaponry. And we know that ultimately they were abandoned and allowed to die at the hands of their aggressors.
Getting all the facts after such an event should supersede any political partisanship; there should be no question we should know the truth within a few months time and there is no question we should have left no stone unturned and no avenue untraveled to bring the perpetrators to justice. Yet here we are, twenty months from this cowardly attack upon our country, and we have few answers and we have brought no one to justice. Instead partisan squabbling has turned the deaths of these four proud and brave Americans into a media sideshow featuring bellicose politicians from both parties posturing for the cameras and working to get their faces and their voices on TV. And still we do not know the real truth. Is this what our great country has devolved into..? And maybe more importantly are ‘We the People’ okay with brushing this horrific event under the rug especially as it has the stench of political maneuvering to cover up the truth as well as putting one man’s, and one party’s, ‘needs’ ahead of the country’s?
Maybe we are okay with just ignoring the need to find out the truth behind what transpired within our government on that sad September 11th; maybe we’d rather just tune this out while we celebrate a day off work, eat barbecue and watch baseball. And maybe we will be okay when a leading figure in this scandal, someone whom was at the helm of the State Department that dark evening, runs for President in a couple of years. I do not know how the American people would answer these questions but I do know something; as sure as I can once again smell smoke on this Memorial Day morning if we continue down the path we currently tread we’re doomed to become a third-rate power on the world stage bereft of dignity and honor.