Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake (MSNBC photo, August 2011)
As I drove back to the ranchito yesterday afternoon from Abilene, moving with light traffic on Interstate 20 near Eastland, Texas, I looked northeast and saw towering pyrocumulus clouds. Approximately forty to fifty miles away from where I drove on the highway, I pinpointed the fires at Palo Pinto, Texas, or Possum Kingdom Lake. My ranchito lay far away from the inferno, so my anxiety lessened and I began to think more intently about the precise location. The smoke rose high in the sky, becoming pyrocumulus, rolling and billowing upwards. It had started at about 1:30 p.m.
When I arrived at the house, I turned on the television and Dallas-Fort Worth stations reported the fires near Possum Kingdom Lake, the southeastern side of the huge lake that dams the Brazos River, the largest river in Texas. In April, fires had erupted about the lake, destroying homes and thousands of acres of trees and grass with attendant wildlife. Once again, Possum Kingdom habitat ignites, the residents flee not having time to salvage photos or documents.
I ruminate that our region suffers a drought, cow tanks dry, underbrush decadent and my primary source of water, the Barton Creek Cooperative, restricts water use with heavy penalties for violators. In the Possum Kingdom fire zone, summer camps for teenagers and children abound, primary homes and secondary homes stand close to trees that are pruned carefully, the underbrush removed as a fire hazard. Yet, so, when the spark falls on the dead, crackly grass and brush, natural forces beyond man’s control take precedence and airships with their whap-whap-whap of whirling blades pour water onto flames that send smoke and ashes high into the sky, creating pyrocumulus in the blue skies of Texas. I think of a line from Full Metal Jacket: Who is in command here?
The origin of the fire is unknown and as of this morning, August 31, the fire is not contained.
For a morning news report, August 31, 2011, see “Wildfires burning homes in Texas, Oklahoma,” from MSNBC.
Notes, corrections and additions:
The quote from the movie, “Who’s in command here?” originally read Apocalypse Now. The proper citation is from the movie, Full Metal Jacket.
The photograph from MSNBC shows smoke and ash close to the ground and none of the “clouds” are pyrocumulus. I saw the pyrocumulus while on the interstate highway and I failed to use my iPhone to photograph the phenomenon.