Should Have Been Home

23 June 2011           9.00 AM         62 F         Blue skies and light clouds

The last entry finished with everything being sweetness and light. I had had a fantastic time with the dogs and had enjoyed the 90 mile drive back to Cantwell on the Denali Highway. The return journey was much more pleasant, no time deadline and no traffic. On the way there, it had been Memorial Weekend, and whilst not exactly busy, there were quite a few vehicles around. For the whole of the return trip, I encountered a grand total of 9 RVs,  6 pick ups and 2 motorcycles. The thought did cross my mind a couple of times that this could be a bad place to break down.

The Denali Highway stretching off into the distance
The Denali Highway, stretching off into the distance

Happily “Big Blue” kept itself together and I rolled into Cantwell for fuel and coffee and a phone call. Right about the time my cell phone got a connection, I called home and just as it started ringing, my message tone started pinging, repeatedly – given that I don’t dish out my number I figured that couldn’t be a good sign.

It turns out that whilst I was thoroughly enjoying myself with the dogs, training and chattering away, without a care in the world – Willow was having a wildfire and my wife and 35 dogs were being compulsorily evacuated from our home by the State Troopers. That of itself was a bad enough state of affairs, however the trouble was compounded by the fact that I was away with the dogtruck.

We do have an emergency evacuation plan, but it has always been predicated on the truck being there. You just can’t move 35 dogs in a Ford Explorer.

Fortunately, in one of those “Pay It Forward” moments, we had been playing host to a young Norwegian, Joar, on his way to the Hope Race in Chukotka with a team of Polar Huskies based out of Minnesota. Mille, who owns the dogs and runs Go North, an amazing interactive learning adventure for school children, uses the dogs’ adventures to create lessons and teach the youngsters about the environment. Joar was over from Norway to train with her and the dogs for an epic trip, originally planned to go from Nome to Kaktovik, to explore the Alaskan coastline.

Mille and Joar had stayed with us in March on their way to Chukotka, and again on their way back as they headed north up the Haul Road for the second part of their epic adventure, this time accompanied by Joar’s friend, Alex. They were due to visit again for a couple of nights on their trip home. In the short time we have known them, we feel like they have become good friends and we already have our  standing “in jokes”.  One of those, is Mille’s perpetual habit of being late – she will probably miss the end of the world because she’ll be busy organising fire retardant suits for everyone.

And so, the very day that my wife finds herself in dire need of assistance, Mille, Joar and Alex turn up, hours ahead of schedule (completely unheard of) and had only just finished dropping their 20 dogs, after a long drive, when the State Trooper arrived to warn of the possibility of an evacuation order being given. He suggested that they start preparing to leave and, if possible, hose water on the trees closest to the house. The boys immediately set to work stripping out Mille’s trailer and attaching hoses to water outlets to dampen the trees before helping the ladies make up airline crates to load our dogs.

All too soon, the Trooper returned and told them they had to leave, the fire was out of control, the wind had shifted and it was heading their way. With the best will in the world and even with 3 willing helpers, it takes time to load 55 dogs into a truck and trailer. Apparently, it takes 40 minutes.

Fortunately, in that time, nothing bad happened and they managed to get all the dogs and themselves into the truck and off down the road, where they were met with the local volunteer firefighters, emergency services, Police, Troopers, all setting up shop on our road. After a bit of a debate, it seemed the general consensus of opinion was that the firecrews had got the upper hand over the fire and had it contained.  Happily, our gallant band of adventurers were allowed to return home, although with words of warning ringing in their ears to be ready to leave if required to do so.

Quite how you are supposed to be able to relax or sleep when you are not sure if you’re going to have to make a run for it, I really don’t know.

As it turned out, by morning, the danger was over, the fire contained and eventually extinguished, despite a further minor flare up and life could begin to return to normal.

When I returned home, 2 days after the emergency, my wife was still a little unsettled by the incident, although greatly reassured by the continued presence of Mille and Joar – and possibly more importantly, Mille’s dogtruck and trailer. They had very kindly promised to stay until I returned and for that kindness, as well as their invaluable assistance during the initial evacuation, I shall be eternally grateful.

Since then, we have been working on Plan B, preparing a better evacuation plan, now that we have actually been in the position of needing to leave. To be honest, it was always one of those things we knew we should have in place, but never quite got round to fully formulating. Now that we’ve had, what was in effect, a full speed dry run, we are much better positioned to know what we actually need as opposed to guessing and hoping.

our dog trucks
Mille's truck and trailer in the background, backed up to our dogyard gate, still ready for a quick getaway.
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