As I and other media members rode into the still-burning Black Forest area last Thursday, it was like we suddenly switched channels from a Technicolor movie of blue skies and green firs to a black-and-white film noir, where trees resembled matchsticks and everything was covered in various shades of ash.
Horse trailers, vehicles, fences — all gray. The ground, a mass of talcum-powdery ash in hues of white, gray and black.
Color reappeared sporadically. Helicopters dipped their bright "Bambi Buckets" into three small ponds near Cathedral Pines, where several homes survived intact. At Millhaven Place, green trees stood surrounded by blackened earth. As firefighters pounded out flames on one slope below a home, they were encircled by yellow and purple wildflowers. But along Holmes Road, the only real signs of life came from charred fireplace chimneys thrusting from the ruins, lending a spookily solitary feeling.
I also was struck by the terrain. While Black Forest doesn't have steep ridges and canyons like so many national forests, its denuded slopes and swales will make for a substantial flood threat now that the ground is charred.
Many on the tour had witnessed a similar scene last year in Mountain Shadows, but that didn't make it any easier — especially since so many of us are wondering how many more of these fires are still to come. That's one question we explore in the Black Forest coverage threaded throughout this issue.