K5 drove back up towards his house as the fire moved up the mountain towards the royal compound. I noticed people in orange suits climbing along the mountainside to fight it. Soon, the army arrived to fight the fire as well. All the while, men, women, and children watched as flames taller than the pine trees roared in the wind.
Having grown up in Encinitas and lived in Santa Barbara, I've seen a few fires in my day, but nothing as up close and personal as this one. The fire leaped along the ridge of the mountains, and created a ring around the homes.
Around sunset, I heard cheering and I ran to the kitchen window. I saw a line of men and women walking down the mountain. Some of them wore yellow backpacks used to carry water. Picture camping shower meets Ghostbusters costume. I watched a man in uniform jokingly pump up his gun and hose down a friend with some water. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Holy S***, I had Super Soakers more powerful than that as a kid, and it was just used it to put out a forest fire.” I learned that some of the “fire fighters” use branches to beat the fire down. I also learned the orange suits were volunteers.
Within ten minutes, the volunteers piled into 3 buses and were off down the mountain. The army soldiers followed, piling into the same trucks seen dropping students off at school.
As Americans, we live by numbers and percentages. Had I been in America, I would have put myself at ease by flipping on the TV, seeing the number of fire fighters on the scene, assessing the percentage of fire containment, hearing the number of acres burned, and looking at the precise evacuation line drawn by the experts. In Bhutan, in times of crisis, the answers are approximations that usually include, “your guess is as good as mine.”
My home smells like a campfire and the hillside out my window is black. Yet as I sit and Google “Thimphu fire” to survey the damage, nothing appears. I guess I’ll walk to town tomorrow and look up the mountain to see where it is black and where it is still green.