007: Fire Season


Bush fire on the side a path to Solwezi

Life is good, doo da doo doo,” Chelsi’s phone chimed from the table top. Valerie S. she read on the phone screen. I wonder what she’s calling about.
“Hello?” Valerie was a CHIP, or community health volunteer in Chelsi’s district.
“Hi, is this Chelsi? This is Valerie.”
“Yea, how are you?”
“I’m doing fine, but I’m calling because, do you remember when you were posting Ephraim had told you the married couples stuff in the garage was free game? Well, do you remember seeing a black bin in there with a blue sleeping bag on top and a piece of paper with my name on it?”
“Umm…” The whole process of posting, now three weeks ago was kind of a blur. “Maybe?”
“Okay, because that bin was filled with my stuff and now it’s gone and the sleeping bag was laying on the floor.” Valerie’s voice sounded uncommonly calm given the circumstances.
“Oh, ummm, well Jason was the first one to go in there because he took over the married couple’s site. By the time any of the rest of us got in to the garage it was already torn up into a mess. Maybe you can tell me what you’re missing and I can tell you if I have any of it.”
“There was some soap and some fabric.  A pack of baby wipes… I can’t remember all that was in there.”
“I did take some soap and some baby wipes.”
“Great! Was there anything else?”
“I took a mortar and pestal, a couple of baskets, a juice pitcher, umm.” Chelsi paused and looked around her tiny house. “Some picture books and matches.”
“No, none of that’s mine.”
“Have you called any of the Lundas? I think I saw Oliver with a large black bin.”
“No I don’t have their numbers.”
“No problem, I’ll text them to you.”
“Thanks Chelsi, how is community entry going?” Valerie was referring to the first three months that a new volunteer spends on their village. A time where they are not allowed to take vacation days or stay at the Peace Corps house in the Provencal capital or even run any programs, though most volunteers end up doing so anyway.  During those three months many volunteers will describe it as the worst part of their service, although when it’s over look back on it fondly. 
“You know, it’s really not as bad as everyone made it sound like.” Chelsi stood in the doorway of her tiny house and peered outside. A chicken dug in the dirt just beyond her dilapidated fence. “There’s good moments and bad moments, but I haven’t had the proverbial break down that a lot of volunteers mentioned having.”
“Yea, I didn’t think it was all that bad either.”
“Getting the repairs to my house done have been frustratingly slow, and the bricks I paid for eight weeks ago still haven’t been made. But I don’t dread having to spend time in my village, and I have my dog which helps.” Chelsi watched Daisy chase the chicken away from the soft patch of dirt so she could dig her own hole.  In the direction of her gaze she could also see a few wisps of smoke sailing up towards the sky.
“Oh, you were able to find a puppy?”
“Yeah, one of Dick’s dogs.” Chelsi’s eyes tracked the thickening smoke back to just across the path to her host family’s house. 
“I think an important part of community entry is just working on project you can control.”
“I’m trying to set up a small garden next to the house.”
“Yeah that’s an excellent idea.” In the ear that wasn’t pressed up to the phone Chelsi could now hear loud crackling as the intensity of the fire picked up. “All right, thanks for your help.” Valerie started to say,
“Wait, just one more thing. There have been pretty large fires just being burned on the side of the road. Right now there is one just in front of my house…” she trailed off as five foot flames started to lick the trees.
“Yeah, that’s normal. People will just come and set fires on the side of the road. They’re burning back the bush.”
It seems awfully close to my house, which is covered in dry grass. At what point is it a safety and security concern?”
“How do the other people seem to be reacting?”
“They’re just standing causally around watching.” Her yard was filled with a thin haze of smoke that made her cough if she breathed too deeply. “The kids are playing in the path right by it.”
“If nobody else looks concerned then you’re probably okay.”
“So, I don’t have to call and tell Peace Corps?”
“No, they only care if your house actually burns down.”
“Okay. But at what point should I been concern, you know personally?”
“If there’s a fire burning really close to my house I’ll cancel any programs that day so I can stay and keep an eye on it. Or if you start to see kids taking green, really healthy looking branches off of trees and they start trying to beat back the flames, that’s also a pretty good sign that you should clear out.”
“Okay,” Chelsi said rather unsettled.  Especially since she worked with the U.S. Forest Service and now that some of her friend were wildland firefighters, she had become for more sensitive to the dangers of fires and their pending consequences which she felt far more acutely.
“It’s dry season, be prepared for a lot of fires.”
“Okay, thanks Valerie.”
“No problem, enjoy community entry and I’ll see you in three weeks at prov’s.”
“Bye.” Chelsi hung up the phone and set it back on the table before taking a seat on her porch.  Daisy came running over and she picked her up and placed her in her lap.  “Don’t get to close now you silly dog.” Daisy sat contently, chewing on Chelsi’s thumb.
They sat and watch the fire for another 20 minutes before the flames died down.  What was left was blackened earth, but the thick stems of the tall grass were still standing and the higher reaches of the trees remained untouched. The only other wildland fire she had seen this fresh was on the banks of the Deschutes River, a week or so after a mega fire had rolled through.  All that was left there was scorched earth, not even the woody stems of the sage brush survived.  Despite her uneasiness, Chelsi thought to herself, Maybe the villagers know what they’re doing.

Categories: Mystery, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “007: Fire Season

  1. Sandy

    I love those pictures at the bottom Chelsi. So proud of you!


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