With the CZU Lightning Complex fire now largely off the Coastside’s list of immediate threats, except for the thick blanket of smoke, we can look back, while our memories are still fresh, at our level of preparedness.

In our case, we realized how overgrown and under-trimmed pine trees on our property had become, especially on the south side of the house — the direction from which CZU would have been coming, but for the lack of strong winds and the work of CalFire heroes. Before we knew the outcome, we were concerned that our “forever house” was not going to live up to its name, and that many belongings, too many or heavy to pack in the pickup truck, would be gone too.

For me, it brought back the fear I felt right after the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck on Oct. 17, 1989. After a wild ride on the 20th floor of my office building in San Francisco, I got to my car and began an hours-long trip back to Half Moon Bay, picking my way through streets crowded with other displaced workers and blocked in places by fallen building adornments or broken panes of glass. In the rearview mirror: an angry red glow, increasing as I moved away at a snail’s pace, the fire that destroyed many homes in the city’s Marina neighborhood.

We couldn’t see the CZU flames from our house last week, though we could see the prodigious plume of smoke. With guidance from people with more experience in this sort of thing, and the help of 10 dear friends and family, we started cutting a fire break at the south edge of the property, clearing out the scrub brush, and limbing-up the trees. It took four days.

Would our belated efforts at fire prevention have worked if CZU had kept moving north? In retrospect I doubt it, but it at least allowed us to feel we were making a difference. And, we have a pretty good start on a more formidable fire break.

The smoke is still with us, but now that the danger has passed the two things I remember fondly from the four days of amateur firefighting are, first, the generosity and energy of our volunteers, who worked as hard to save our house as they would if their own houses were in peril, and second, the raspy growl of the chainsaws.

No one would consider chainsaws melodic, but with proper hearing protection in place they chant a chorus of protest against the oncoming enemy. You can see the progress as each piece of brush is removed and each low-hanging limb falls to the ground, both to be removed from the “line of fire,” so to speak.

Several volunteers commented afterward how much they enjoyed using the chainsaws. I don’t suggest chainsawing as a hobby or future Olympic sport, but it allows one to accomplish in days what would have taken months with hand tools. They are power tools, and when you’re feeling powerless against one of nature’s monsters, it’s comforting to have some power on your side.

Louie Castoria can be reached at louie@hmbreview.com.

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